Cold Brook, William Fichtner’s directorial debut, is the equivalent of a Lifetime movie for middle-aged men. That is not intended as an insult.
Fichtner made a career as a recognizable character actor taking on small roles in larger films — Quiz Show, Heat, The Dark Knight, Armageddon, Black Hawk Down. He writes, stars in and directs Cold Brook, displaying solid work in all categories. Fichtner plays Ted Markham, a maintenance man at a small-town liberal arts college alongside his best friend, George (Kim Coates). The two occasionally escape from work and family obligations at a cabin just outside of town to shoot paintball, drink beer and unwind. One night, they stop a potential robbery at the campus art museum and end up viral heroes, launching an adventure during which they learn about themselves and what they value.
The two lead characters are married to bemused but understanding women. Mary (Robin Weigert) is Ted’s working wife; Rachel (Mary Lynn Rajskub) is George’s. Like Fichtner and Coates, both Weigert and Rajskub are reliable character actors who seem to be kicking back in their roles here. Although the dramatic beats land well enough, Cold Brook is an enjoyable watch in part because the story is so relatively straightforward, the characters played so well and, ultimately, everyone involved in the story is a nice person trying hard to do a nice thing despite the hurricane of odd events in which they’re swept up.
There is little to no real marital drama, only scant interpersonal drama between Ted and George. It’s a story about two men happy to have found an adventure that belongs to just them, as well as the wives who support them and enjoy the fact that their husbands have a supportive, positive and close male friendship.
Even the mystery at the heart of Cold Brook is heartwarming. The strangely written synopsis — “Cold Brook is the story of two ordinary guys in a small town who embark on an extraordinary adventure. It’s a story about coming home; something everyone everywhere has an innate desire to do” — doesn’t really touch on the fact that this is ultimately a ghost story, with Ted and George helping the ghost of Gil Le Deux (Harold Perrineau) find his home, which is to say peace with his ghost wife.
It’s a Lifetime-like movie in the sense that it’s entirely feel-good, concluding with a philosophy that boils down to every character, alive or dead, being happy with their spouses and / or fraternal bonds. The humor is of a good-natured keel that doesn’t want to offend anyone. Deeply pleasant all around.