Atlanta Film Festival Review: In the Cold Dark Night

Score: B

Directors: Nick Hampson, Stephen Robert Morse, Miikka Leskinen

Running Time: 82 Minutes

Rated: NR

"To be Black in Griffin is you always know you're Black," a woman says in voiceover in the opening minutes of this true-crime documentary. That a town in Georgia has racist history is not surprising. But In the Cold Dark Night shows just how deep its roots of hatred go. Griffin is less than an hour south of where I live in Georgia, but even I had no idea how dark its history is.

In 1983, Timothy Coggins' body was found in a field. He had been tortured before bleeding to death. Yet when the film begins 35 years later, his murder is still unsolved. How could a crime so awful have gone cold? There are some major answers to be found in this slick documentary, but a few are left unresolved.

Darrell Dix emerges as the major focus of the film. He's the newly elected sheriff who vows reform in his office and hopes to rebuild the relationship between law enforcement and the community, which is still somewhat segregated. One of his major projects is working with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to solve Coggins' murder. But can justice be done in a town that's glossed over its hideous past? The answer is maybe. Without spoiling what the documentary reveals, it's a question that doesn't have a black and white answer.

In the Cold Dark Night originally aired earlier this year on ABC's 20/20, and it does have the glossy production of the glut of recent true crime documentaries. Its strength is also its biggest flaw: In being a little bit thornier, it has a tidy ending while raising additional questions. This makes it overall a bit unsatisfying. The investigators follow their leads, the district attorney prosecutes, the witnesses testify, and the jury reaches their conclusion. But it never explores in-depth the bigger mystery: Why was this case ignored at the time? The easy answer is the culture of racism that was prevalent in 1983. But there's no further digging – from the filmmakers or the sheriff's department – into the law enforcement personnel who either covered up the murderers' participation or pushed their colleagues to back off the investigation.

That would have made for an essential true crime documentary, not merely an above-average one.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.