'Cold Brook': Film Review

Courtesy of Vertical Entertainment
Hard to pin down, but moving nonetheless.

Veteran character actor William Fichtner directed, co-wrote and stars in this low-key drama about two maintenance workers who encounter a mysterious stranger with a haunted past.

There are long sequences in William Fichtner's laid-back directorial debut Cold Brook in which the two lead characters engage in such activities as an aggressive game of paintball and drinking beer while fishing at a beautiful country lake. You start to get the feeling that the shaggy-dog ghost story that informs much of the rest of the film is mainly an excuse for the veteran character actor, who also co-wrote and stars, to hang out with good friends and spend some quality time in his hometown of Buffalo and its environs. 

Otherwise, it's hard to know quite what to make of the pic, which combines dramatic, comedic and supernatural elements to occasionally charming but more often minor effect. Fichtner, a film and television veteran (Black Hawk Down, Armageddon, Prison Break) who is currently showing off his comedic chops on CBS' Mom, plays Ted, who works alongside his best friend Hilde (Kim Coates, Sons of Anarchy) as maintenance workers at a small liberal arts college. They are also family men who enjoy loving, if occasionally strained, relationships with their wives Mary Ann (Robin Weigert, Deadwood) and Rachel (Mary Lynn Rajskub, 24), respectively.

The men's lives take a sudden turn one night while they're closing up the school's resident museum, currently hosting an exhibition devoted to The Bernadine, a ship that sunk in 1857. They spot a mysterious man hovering over one of the display cases and, thinking that he's an intruder, chase him out of the building. Their quarry mysteriously disappears, but Ted and Hilde, whose exploits are captured on camera by some students, become local heroes. A television news report breathlessly describes them as "a couple of maintenance workers turned crime stoppers."

While basking in their minor celebrity, they also begin experiencing strange phenomena, including mysterious lights bathing the museum's exterior and repeated sightings of the man they had chased. It turns out that he's Gil Le Deux (Harold Perrineau, Lost), or more accurately his ghost, whose wife died in the shipwreck. Gil's anguished demeanor suggests that he won't be at peace until he's reunited with her, which has something to do with a deed to land that he was owed that's being shown in the exhibition. In their efforts to help him retrieve the document, Ted and Hilde wind up being suspected of a crime themselves, much to the delight of the museum's zealous security guard (Brad William Henke) who became obsessively jealous over their fame.

Cold Brook never succeeds in generating much suspense or pathos involving the ghost story at its center, with its screenplay co-written by Fichtner and Cain DeVore handling it in largely perfunctory fashion. That the storyline has any emotional resonance at all is largely due to Perrineau's effectively internal, quietly haunting performance.

The film proves much more successful with its authentic-feeling depiction of small-town rural life, including the loose, playful camaraderie exhibited by the residents who all seem to know each other. It also offers a moving portrait of a loving and supportive friendship between two middle-aged men who, although not without their immature tendencies, are clearly responsible husbands and fathers who are always striving to do the right thing. Fichtner and Coates, who have worked together numerous times before, display an easy chemistry, and it's a pleasure to see the latter, so often cast as villains, playing such an easily likable character.

The marital relationships of the characters are handled with equal sensitivity, with Weigert and Rajskub delivering wryly humorous portrayals of the two women who clearly adore their husbands but are hardly unaware of their character flaws. It would have been nice if Cold Brook had added up to something more substantial, but at least it's a film about grown-ups who generally try to behave that way, and these days that feels like a rare thing.

Production companies: Anamorphic Media, Roadrunner, Trilight Entertainment
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Cast: William Fichtner, Kim Coates, Harold Perrineau, Robin Weigert, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Johnny Strong, Brad William Henke
Director: William Fichtner
Screenwriters: William Ficthtner, Cain DeVore
Producers: Kim Coates, William Fichtner, Shayne Putzlocher, Sara Shaak
Executive producers: Cain DeVore, Gary Drummond, Joe Ferraro, Sean HusVar
Director of photography: Edd Lukas
Production designer: David Allen Butler
Editor: Kiran Pallegadda
Composer: Michael Deragon
Costume designer: Melissa Vargas
Casting: Matthew Maisto, Frank Rossi

102 minutes