There is nothing better than discovering a cult classic you never knew existed and Cohen and Tate for me was just that. As a massive fan of 80’s action movies I thought I had pretty much seen them all but this hugely entertaining and intensely gripping crime thriller from 1988 somehow passed me by, until now that is.
Baring several similarities with the 1907 short story The Ransom of Red Chief by William Sydney Porter under his O. Henry pen name (which interestingly also influenced Ryan Schifrin’s The Ransom of Rusty Rex short in Tales of Halloween) the film tells the story of two contract killers Cohen and Tate who are hired to kidnap a 9 year old boy who witnessed a mob murder and deliver him to their bosses.
Although O. Henry’s tale has been spun many times in a much more child friendly way in the hands of Eric Red, who wrote the brilliant The Hitcher staring Rutger Hauer and Kathryn Bigelow’s vampire classic Near Dark, it is a grim and disturbing road movie where the distraught and distressed young Travis Knight (Harley Cross) is forced to spend time with the men responsible for the death of his parents as they speed towards his unfortunate fate to be handed over to the ruthless gangsters who want to keep him quiet forever.
The aforementioned men, Mr. Cohen (Roy Scheider) and Mr. Tate (Adam Baldwin) could not be more different even though they are in the same line of work and on the same job. Calm and controlled old school killer Cohen remains focused on the fulfillment of the contract at all times and although he seems somewhat softer when it comes to interacting with Travis his ruthless nature coupled with the awareness that he is coming to the end of the line professionally keeps him as sly and canny as a fox in a suit with a handgun.
At the other end of the spectrum is Tate the young and uncontrolled, leather jacket wearing shotgun toting sadist who chews gun and talks about his enjoyment in running down small animals. Unhinged and unkind he has no qualms murdering people enjoying it far more than his older partner. Desperate to destroy and let loose his darker desires he constantly comes into conflict with Cohen who tries to rein him in rather than let him send the already overcomplicated mission into more disarray.
Crafting well rounded characters out of each of the leads as well as the small supporting cast around them all of which we come to care about the three main actors are all excellent each stepping up to the scintillating and suspense filled script with tons of gusto and the interplay between them is fascinating to watch as each tries to work out what the others are thinking. As Travis looks for a way out of his dire situation playing the killers off each other the audience is acutely aware that extreme violence is only a trigger finger away at all times.
Perhaps because it involves the abduction of a child like Rabid Dogs there is an added element of nastiness to the whole set up as the characters and the film Cohen and Tate pull no punches when it comes to violence showing gore not for spectacle but to heighten the sense of dread and danger helped along by the perfect score from Bill Conti for musical emphasis.
There are some great stand out set pieces including the atmospheric and upsetting opening, a chaotic chase across a huge freeway and a highway cop standoff and considering it was his first foray into directing Eric Red does a brilliant job creating tons of tension and the atmosphere of fear throughout, a great feat considering so much of the movie takes place in the confined space of the getaway car.
An absolute stone cold 80’s action classic Cohen and Tate more than delivers and deserves a place among the far more famous films of the decade containing as it does creative characters, powerhouse performances, a cracking script and deft direction all poured into a tension filled thriller that doesn’t let up till the final frame.
Cohen & Tate – The Arrow Video Story: