The directorial debut of Eric Red (who also wrote), 1989's Cohen And Tate begins at a farm, looking as serene and peaceful as you'd expect, except for the armed guards surrounding the house. This may look odd at first but it turns out that a young boy named Travis Knight (Harley Cross) and his parents, Jeff (Cooper Huckabee) and Martha (Suzanne Savoy), are under witness protection ever since young Travis saw a mobster murdered. Well, those who were in cahoots with the recently deceased mobster would like to know who pulled the trigger and so they send two hitmen, the calm and aged Cohen (Roy Scheider) and the young hotshot killing machine Tate (Adam Baldwin), to retrieve Travis and take care of anyone who gets in their way. One bloody shootout later and the two hitmen have got the kid essentially held hostage in the back of their car for a three and a half hour drive to Houston.
What they don't realize until after they've fled the scene is that Jeff survived and was not only able to call the cops but to give them a pretty good description of them as well. The police head out in full force, setting up roadblocks and check points between the farmhouse and Houston in hopes of catching them. Tension mounts as Tate decides the best course of action is to kill their hostage and flee, while Cohen wants to bring him in unharmed as ordered. Travis, however, is savvy enough to realize that these two don't exactly like each other and rather cleverly figures that he might be able to use this to make an escape on his own.
A solid thriller with some shocking violence and a great performance from Roy Scheider as the hard of hearing â€˜old man' of the movie, Cohen And Tate holds up well. Scheider is believable in the part but also brings an interesting sense of cool, calculating menace to the role that helps to make his character more interesting than just your average bad guy with a gun. Baldwin's character doesn't fare so well, at times it almost feels like he's going for an over the top Bill Paxton approach (you could probably draw some apt comparisons between Baldwin's character here and Paxton's in Near Dark, which Red also wrote) and it is, in spots at least, a bit much. The good outweighs the bad, however, as if Baldwin's character is a bit of a â€˜crazy killer' clichÃ©, he brings good physical menace to the scenes where he needs to. If it might have served the movie better to have him tone it down a bit, at least he never goes so far as to ruin what is otherwise a very good film. If nothing else, the two very different lead characters do make for interesting contrast.
As much a road movie as it is anything else, the journey from the farm to Houston takes some interesting and surprisingly dark turns before it finishes, highlighted by a very tense scene where the two hitmen, with Travis in tow, make their way through a huge police checkpoint. There's nice cinematography here and very good use of shadow and light to keep things visually interesting throughout. The movie goes at a good pace, it's well edited and rarely slows down. There are moments where Cross' character is a little too clever for his own good, you don't always get the impression that a nine year old boy should be able to outwit two grown men the way he does, but then, kids can sometimes surprise us that way. If he portrayal of a scared little boy occasionally goes to clichÃ©d extremes (biting down on his fist to suppress a scream?), his work here is decent enough that more often than not we are able to accept him in the role.
If Cohen And Tate has some flaws, and it does, it is still a very entertaining thriller worth seeing. There's a whole lot of entertainment value to be had and ultimately that's what matters more than realism or anything else when it comes to the movies. It's good enough, in fact, that you kind of have to wonder why MGM relegated it to their â€˜Limited Edition Collection' series of burn on demand releases, but thenâ€¦. Shout! Factory to the rescue. Which brings us toâ€¦
Shout! Factory presents Cohen And Tate on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed in the movie's original aspect ratio of 1.85.1. Image quality is pretty good for the most part. You can expect to see a fair bit of grain and a few minor specks here and there but you'll also likely appreciate the very natural looking color reproduction, there's no evidence of boosting or tweaking here and we get a nice upgrade over the MGM MOD release that came out a couple of years ago in every aspect you'd hope to see improved. Skin tones look good, nice and natural and never too pink or waxy, while black levels are solid throughout. Detail is strong, you'll notice this more in close up shots than medium and long distance shots (especially when we get close ups of Scheider's face in the finale) but even there you can note the texture on the upholstery of the cars and in the fabrics that the different characters wear. There aren't any issues with edge enhancement or noise reduction and all in all, this feels like a pretty accurate representation of the movie.
There are audio options provided in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio, no alternate language options, subtitles or closed captioning of any kind is available on the disc despite what the packaging may say. Clarity on both tracks is perfectly fine, they're well balanced and crisp sounding with no hiss or distortion worth noting. The 5.1 track does get the nod for spreading the mix and effects around effectively into the rear channels but regardless of which option you go for, expect clear and easy to understand dialogue, a nicely poignant score and appropriately punchy effects work.
The extras start off with a commentary track that comes courtesy of writer/director Eric Red. Although he had written a few scripts before this film, this was his directorial debut and he notes in the track what he wanted to accomplish and what his influences were, Peckinpah and Ford being two important (and somewhat obvious) ones. He talks about his interaction with the cast and crew, the MPAA's insistence at removing some of the more vicious violence in the movie to avoid the dreaded X-rating and how he tried to do something different this time around compared to the horror movies that he'd been known for previously. Red isn't always super talkative and towards the end of the movie he clams up a little bit, but overall this is a pretty interesting talk that offers some welcome insight into his creative process in addition to providing a nice history of the movie itself.
Shout! Factory have also included a pretty interesting featurette entitled A Look Back At Cohen And Tate that is made up of interviews with Eric Red, actors Harley Cross, Kenneth McCabe and Frank Bates, editor Edward Abroms and cinematographer Victor J. Kemper. The cast discuss their characters and experiences working with Red, while Abroms and Kemper fill in the blanks on some of the more technical aspects and discuss different aspects of their work. Red sort of balances things out, and though he repeats a lot of what he covers in the commentary, the input from the other interviewees rounds this out nicely and makes it worth watching. They also cover working with Scheider and Baldwin and note Cross' performance and how important it was to the effectiveness of the picture.
Also included here is twenty minutes of Deleted And Extended Footage, a fair bit of which would seem to be those bits and pieces that Red mentions having been cut at the insistence of the MPAA. Without going into serious spoiler territory, the opening and closing scenes are considerably bloodier and nastier here but in addition to that there are a bunch of little clips that extend different scenes and give Savoy a bit more time in front of the camera. There's also some interesting footage here that, had it played out the way it does in this version, would have changed the ending in an interesting way. The movie is probably leaner without a lot of this material put back into it, but the uncut violence definitely packs a wallop.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are the film's original theatrical trailer, a still gallery that not only contains the requisite promo shots and production stills but also a whole host of storyboard art pieces, menus and chapter selection.
Cohen And Tate holds up well, a strong and suspenseful thriller with a great performance from Scheider that helps to offset Adam Baldwin's one note caricature. There's some style here, some good scenes of tension and a few surprisingly grim moments. Shout! Factory's Blu-ray debut for the film is a good one, offering the movie up in good shape and with some welcome extra features as well. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.