Cohen and Tate

Cohen and Tate

Eric Red hit Hollywood with a bang in the mid-eighties. His screenplays for The Hitcher and Near Dark were both highly acclaimed so it’s no surprise that his next opportunity should be to direct another of his scripts. This came in the form of Cohen and Tate, a tense thriller following two kidnappers and their victim across Texas.

It’s a great high concept idea but the opening moments are so incredibly clumsy the movie risks crashing out before the first corner. A text scroll on screen tells us a nine-year-old boy has witnessed a mob murder and is now under federal protection in a secret location. A better director (possibly Eric Red himself, this being his debut) would have constructed a more fluid exposition. It’s a pity because the scenes that follow are very good indeed.

Those next ten minutes establish the two eponymous villains of the piece and get the film off to shocking and bloody start. A Houston mob boss with a connection to the murder wants to speak to the 9-year-old personally. Thus Cohen and Tate, two killers for hire arrive at the isolated farmhouse, kill the FBI guards and the boy’s parents then grab the kid and hit the road back to mob HQ.

The rest of the film is shot mostly within the claustrophobic confines of the getaway vehicle. In this arena, the differences between the two players are laid bare. Yes, the pair are chalk and cheese and bicker for the duration of the journey but the more we journey with them the more their nuances emerge.

Cohen is a veteran, a soldier of the old school. He has no qualms about threatening or employing violence, even against innocent bystanders but he is an absolute professional. Give him a job to do, however unsavoury and he will do it. Tate on the other hand is an aggressive young hothead, loud and obnoxious and liable not just to explode in anger at any moment, but also to kill without a second thought. A sort of urban version of Animal Mother played by the same actor in the previous year’s Full Metal Jacket.

Given this seemingly-cliched relationship, one might expect Cohen, especially playing by a late-career Roy Scheider, to be the unflappable maestro, performing effortlessly in any situation. However, he messes the job up a couple of times and it’s implied that the mob has forced a partner on him specifically because he can no longer be trusted to do the job solo. Adam Baldwin plays the sociopathic Tate with relish and at times a little too maniacally. He is definitely a liability and on multiple occasions his temper nearly drives him to kill the child in their charge. However, when kept on a short leash he is a formidable asset as proved during a fabulous set piece when the pair run a police roadblock.

Cohen and Tate

The journey through the night is a long one and into this mix is thrown Travis, the little lad in the custody of this pair of killers. Having seen both his parents killed and been wrenched from his protected existence he begins the trip, as might we all, semi-comatose. But as time goes by in the backseat he observes the dynamic of his captors, and starts to engage in some gentle then ever more sophisticated psy-ops to turn the two against each other and eventually to start to do his bidding. At one point he spits directly into Tate’s face, despite having a shotgun pointed in his. These tactics throws both killers off their game and before we know it the entire mission is in jeopardy.

Despite being shot entirely in the state not many Texan locales are offered up in the film. Much of the action is at night and the characters rarely leave their car but the two leads do a fine job in personifying Texan character, Cohen with his no-nonsense commitment to the job and Tate with his superhuman bravado.

Cohen and Tate is a little-known thriller that definitely deserves a wider audience. Recommended.

I’m delighted to offer this review as part of the The Texas Blogathon hosted by Midnite Drive-In

Cohen and Tate – directed by Eric Red (1988)

In Short
A tense thriller following two kidnappers and their victim across Texas.

Trailer here

The Texas Blogathon