"Cold Brook" ★★1/2
Ted and Hilde's Excellent Adventure
“Cold Brook,” a buddy caper set in upstate New York, is a small, small-town, feel-good film, done well. Its charm is in the bond between the principal characters, two college mechanics who are the buddies of the movie.
Ted Markham is winningly portrayed by William Fichtner, who also co-wrote and directed. His “co-worker” (that’s a nod to a minor theme in the film) is George Hildebrandt, “Hilde,” played with blue-eyed intensity by Kim Coates. Both are historically character actors and have appeared together in prior films and on television (“Prison Break”). Their joyful male intimacy is at the center of “Cold Brook.” They are so close that Markham’s spouse Mary Ann (Robin Weigert) says to him one morning, “Your wife is going to work early,” pointing outside to Hilde. And Hilde’s wife Rachel (Mary Lynn Rajskub) says to Mary Ann in a late scene, “You better get out there before they marry each other.”
Markham and Hilde discover an apparition in the college’s history museum, hovering around an exhibit on a pre-Civil War shipwreck. He’s Guy Le Deux (Harold Perrineau evoking anxious humanity and appropriate otherworldliness), a black slave recently given his freedom, who perished with his wife in 1857 when the ship they were travelling on from New Orleans to New York went down in a storm. This is not the current horror fare nor an exploration of racism, but a bit of magical realism, critical to the plot. It requires suspending one’s disbelief, and that’s willingly given. Only Markham and Hilde can see Le Deux, and only they can help him find what he’s searching for.
This minimal plot line sustains the film. The subplots, if they can be called that, are of limited interest. There’s the comically overeager and status-deprived college cop, Chip (overplayed by Brad William Henke), and the somewhat emotionally estranged wives who wonder what their husbands are up to. Chip’s subplot lacks strength, except to distinguish men who have male intimacy from those who don’t. And the wives, while making frequent appearances, have no important role, apart from “making the couples” in the final scenes.
It’s Markham and Hilde one cares about, and with good reason. They’re amiable characters with distinct but compelling faces, whose expressions of engagement, concern, and awe represent the possibility that there could be more to life than the quotidian experience of the workplace and the family—and that moving beyond the everyday requires the decision to act, even when that might involve some risk. The moral dilemma in “Cold Brook”—that there could be real-life consequences to that risk-taking—appears too late, almost as an afterthought, but it’s there.
“Cold Brook” was filmed in Upstate New York, mostly in Western New York, with a loving appreciation of the land, which is also central to the story. Fichtner, raised in Western New York (Cheektowaga), was the first person to receive a star on the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival’s Wall of Fame. In an early scene, the men, who have been playing paintball, emerge from the woods to a contoured landscape of un-planted fields and rolling hills. It’s a landscape to which the film returns, signifying the importance of place and the need to return “home” (something like what Fichtner has done by making this film).
There are several local touchstones in “Cold Brook,” including landmarks such as the Aurora Theatre in downtown East Aurora (20 miles south of Buffalo) and Buffalo State College’s Rockwell Hall, as well as local actors. Cindy Abbott Letro is perfect in her cameo as a college administrator (filmed in Kleinhans’ Mary Seton Room), and Joseph G. Giambra, with his plastic face, is ideal as the observer in the coffee shop, an observer who represents us, the audience.
“Cold Brook” appears to have not yet found a distributor, even though—with professional production values, a solid script, and a good story—it has won several awards at regional film festivals. It’s available from Amazon Prime Video to rent or purchase.
Director: William Fichtner
Starring: William Fichtner, Kim Coates, Robin Weigert, Harold Perrineau, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Brad William Henke, Cindy Abbot Letro, Joseph G. Giambra
Runtime: 100 minutes.