The standard movie, no matter if it’s fiction or documentary, spends a certain amount of time introducing its story and characters. Some do it in a flash, some take a long time, but all of them try to make sure that the audience knows what’s at stake before delving into the meat of the film.
The new documentary Time eschews that norm, along with many others, for an experience that cuts to the bone and confuses in equal measures. At the forefront of the film is Fox Rich, whose husband Rob is serving a 60-year prison sentence for armed robbery. As the film goes along, we gradually learn that Fox is working hard to get him out of prison, and that she spent an unspecified amount of time behind bars as an accessory to the crime.
What director Garrett Bradley doesn’t do is try to tell the story linearly. Using a mixture of home footage from the Riches and his own professional filming, all of which is in black-and-white, Bradley jumps back and forth in time in the family’s life. Slowly but surely, we come to understand the impact that Rob’s incarceration has had on the family, as well as the depth of Fox’s devotion not only to her husband, but to the cause of opposing unfair sentencing practices.
Unlike similar films, this is not a wrongful conviction story. Fox freely admits the crimes she and Rob committed, but strongly objects to the idea that his crime is one for which he should spend the majority of his life in prison. Were this another film, it would try to educate viewers about unfair sentencing practices in general, using Rob’s sentence as its prime example. However, Bradley prefers to keep the message personal, leaving broader proclamations to films like Ava Duvernay’s 13th, many of which are echoed in Fox’s musings.
In so doing, though, he leaves out or blurs some significant details. Though it’s apparent that Fox has been working a long time to get Rob out of prison, it’s unclear how many years have passed, although we get strong clues by seeing how much their kids have aged. In the same vein, it’s never explained why Rob received such a long sentence or what methods Fox is using to secure parole or a sentence reduction. Fox is obviously tenacious and mostly unflappable, but the film leaves the audience in the dark as to the minutiae of her work.
Instead, the film follows Fox’s lead and keeps her family as its main thrust. Instead of concentrating on negative aspects, Bradley notes the various successes of their lives, including one son’s scholastic achievements. While we rarely see Fox and Rob together, the force with which she talks about him and their kids leaves no doubt as to the strength of their bond, even through their long separation.
Time is a message film, but it’s one where the smaller message trumps what’s normally perceived as the bigger message. For Fox Rich, family is everything, and anyone who has a partner as determined and loyal as her should consider themselves lucky.
Time is playing in select theaters starting on October 9 and will stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video starting on October 16.