Time (2020, Documentary)
Dir: Garrett Bradley
Who is this about?
Amazon Prime describes this as ‘an intimate yet epic love story filmed over two decades’ which doesn’t make it sound like a documentary at all. It follows matriarch Fox Rich, whose husband Rob is serving an incredibly long prison sentence, which she relentlessly seeks to have shortened.
What did he do?
He’s imprisoned for armed robbery. Unlike many true crime stories, he’s not protesting his innocence, his wife doesn’t try to deny it, they’re honest about the fact that they both committed the crime. Her argument for his release is more focused on it being an overly harsh and lengthy sentence, longer than he was told he’d get, something that happens often to black defendants.
When in their lives does this film cover?
He’s about 20 years into his 60-year sentence, the film makes extensive use of amateur footage Fox Rich recorded herself over the years. All the film has been finished in black and white, which helps to even out the changing quality of amateur video footage over two decades.
How could this be better?
I came away with the strong feeling that many key aspects of the documentary needed more clarity. Sweeping statements are made, drawing parallels between incarceration and slavery. I’m not going to try to argue against those sentiments, and I didn’t expect the film to do so either, but I would have liked it to elaborate a little on the idea, explaining what’s meant by that comparison. It’s an incendiary statement and one that rightly so should elicit a response, but for it to be compelling I think it needs development, and I felt that was lacking. This film is deeply personal, it takes its strength from the subjects, their feelings, emotions, the human cost of choices made and sentences imposed. I’m still waiting to see a documentary that balances the two extreme approaches to this issue, with a mix of statistics, and humanity, to present a fuller and more compelling argument that follows the line of reasoning from start to finish.
Fox Rich is a fascinating woman, a real force of nature, that’s clear. What’s not clear is quite how she went from so broke it seemed her only option was armed robbery (something she herself says), to author, motivational speaker, successful businesswoman. We see all this in evidence, yet I found myself asking for that piece of the story to be developed and it never was. There’s also scope to see more about the way she’s raised their sons, we see some of how well they’re doing, they have really excelled, educationally and socially. There’s potential for a whole film focused on them alone and their experiences of growing up with their father in prison. They’re very intelligent and hard-working young men, but I don’t feel like we’re really getting much insight from them and their perspective. Also, a little more at the end would be nice, to see how the family adapt to the huge changes in their circumstances, again, another part of this family’s story that prompt more questions the film doesn’t really attempt to answer.
Where can this be seen?
Amazon Prime Video, it’s part of their push to get Academy Awards and it seems likely they’ll get one.
Why will this do well at the awards?
Incarceration and tougher sentencing of African Americans is a hot button issue, one that’s being tackled by documentaries and podcasts quite often. What this film has in its favour is that this is a more personal angle on the topic, more so than something like Ava Duvernay’s 13th. It will probably win, largely on the strength of the issues it raises, though the film itself doesn’t quite grapple with them enough for my liking.