Review for Cohen & Tate
Sure, there are the discs that I’m going to review as a matter of course, the genres that I have an interest in, but I do like to keep my mind open, try as much that is out of my comfort zone as possible. That usually means checking the PR e-mails, the websites, to see what’s coming up, doing a little research around the title, seeing roughly what it’s about before requesting a check disc. Sometimes all it takes is one image. The idea of Roy Scheider and Adam Baldwin starring in a movie together was enough to get me intrigued, enough to request the check disc without reading any further. So it was only when the disc arrived, and it was time to review it, that I learned that it was written and directed by Eric Red, the screenwriter of the Hitcher.
9 year old Travis Knight witnessed a mob killing. That was enough for the FBI to take him and his family and put them in witness protection, although how protected they are in an isolated farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, when one of their guards has been bought off is another question. The mob want Travis Knight, to find out what he knows before making sure he never gets to testify. He wakes up in the back of a car, having just witnessed the murder of his parents, with the two hitmen responsible in the front seats. They think the hard part is over, and that all they have to do now is to drive the kid to Houston, and deliver him to their employer. But they have their personality issues to contend with. Cohen is a veteran killer, exact, meticulous and professional, while Tate is a new kid, full of himself, getting high on the violence, and excessively brutal. They’ve been made to partner on the job, but they can’t stand each other. But neither of them have reckoned on Travis Knight.
Cohen & Tate gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer. It’s a pretty decent transfer, properly filmic with nothing in the way of DNR applied. There is a smidge of print damage, and the occasional fleck of dirt, so I’d guess that not much in the way of restoration has been applied either. Detail levels are good, although grain isn’t consistent through the movie, there are the occasional scenes where grain just shoots up. Colours are strong and consistent though, while there is a decent level of detail to the film. The big issue is that Cohen & Tate is set mostly at night, in a car, and this is the point where blacks become an issue, and it’s hard to tell how much detail has been crushed, and how little detail there is in the first place. The film itself is watchable enough though, with no really noticeable issues.
The images in this review were kindly supplied by Arrow Video.
Your sole choice here is a PCM 2.0 Stereo English track with optional subtitles, and I have another disc that exhibits a slight incompatibility with my player, such that the audio is out of sync. If you have a Panasonic SA BTT-490 Home Cinema, then adding a 70 millisecond delay to the audio is enough to get it dead on again. Otherwise the dialogue is clear throughout, and while the audio is quite naturally a front focussed affair, the action is represented well, and the film’s rather generic music score is appropriate to the genre. One oddity is Tate’s obviously overdubbed swearing in one scene. He’s certainly foul-mouthed at the best of times, but once when he loses his temper with the kid, his language gets visibly toned down. Apparently in movies you can stick a gun in the face of a child, but heaven forbid that you use foul language at him.
The movie fares well when it comes to extra features on disc, which boots up to an animated menu.
The Commentary by Eric Red is informative at times, but it is very gappy, with long pauses where the action on screen is allowed to run without comment.
A Look Back at Cohen & Tate lasts 20:43 HD and some of the cast and crew are interviewed about the film, nearly 30 years on. This like the other extras is probably taken from the 2013 Shout Factory release.
There are a couple of Uncut and Extended Scenes, the Farmhouse Shootout (2:11), and the Oilfield Shootout (2:48), both presented in 1080i 4:3 format, and obviously scaled up from a video source. These scenes had to be edited down to get a favourable rating from the MPAA.
The Theatrical Trailer lasts 2:27 and is in HD, and there is also a slideshow gallery of production stills.
Apparently there is also BD-ROM content on the disc, original storyboards for the opening farmhouse shoot-out, but I don’t have the means to verify this.
It all comes down to willing suspension of disbelief, and whether you can apply it to Cohen & Tate. I couldn’t. This film’s premise just asks a little too much of me. Don’t get me wrong, Cohen & Tate is very tidily made, an efficient and tightly paced thriller, with great performances from its cast, not least from Harley Cross, the then ten-year-old child actor who played Travis Knight. It’s essentially a three-hander, Roy Scheider as Cohen, the icy and meticulous killer for hire, Adam Baldwin as Tate, the unhinged and unpredictable psychopath, and against them is this kid who’s living the worst trauma that any child can face. The three actors really work together well, with the right amount of energy and antagonism, although while I guess ‘chemistry’ would be an unusual word to apply to three mutually antithetical characters; it’s definitely there on screen.
It only works though if you can accept a nine-year-old boy living through the murders of his family, and then being dragged across country by their murderers, finding the wherewithal and inner strength to deal with that, to communicate with his captors, to try and escape, to actually be smart enough to play psychological games with them, to pit them one against the other. That was the sticking point for me, the core of the story that I just couldn’t buy. When the end credits rolled, my only thought was that the kid must have been a sociopath to begin with, that he’d spent his childhood dismembering small animals, to be able to wall off his emotions like that and deal with his situation with such a degree of control.
It’s only when I listened to some of the commentary that I got another view into this story, another way in which it does work. The director Eric Red described Cohen & Tate as a fairy tale, and given most fairy tales involve bad things happening to children who use their wits to survive, you can see how the description is apt. You can also make the comparison to Red’s most famous screenplay, The Hitcher, which very much is an urban fairy tale. The difference here is that Cohen & Tate is a by the books movie; it is Red’s directorial debut, and as such it lacks the flourish, the ethereal touches needed to make its characters larger than life, add a layer of plausible unreality to it that would mark it out as a dark fairy tale. Instead, it’s more of a dark Dennis the Menace. Certainly, Cohen and Tate are great characters, with Tate exhibiting some of the seeds of Jayne Cobb, effective villains both, but they are written as human; they are certainly no John Ryder.
Cohen & Tate is an entertaining movie if you let it entertain you, but it’s not a passive experience. You’ll have to work at it to buy into its story. This Blu-ray is a decent enough effort, with a strong picture and effective sound (although you might have to tweak it a tad depending on your player). You also get a useful selection of extra features for a film that hardly troubled the box office back when it was first released. It’s certainly worth a rediscovery.