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NYFF Film Review: ‘Time’ Brings a Mournful and Personal Touch to Depicting the Price of Incarceration

Just about any reasonable human being knows that the prison system is deeply unjust. There’s no serious debate about that, anymore. It’s only the fringes of the argument who claim that things don’t need to be changed. Getting anything done about it, on the other hand, is another story entirely. In steps the documentary Time, screening at the 58th New York Film Festival, which makes a powerful case for change, not by getting granular, but by focusing on one story. In fact, this is far more of a character study, focusing on the price that incarceration places on a family. In doing so, a personal face and name are placed on the issue, hopefully putting it more in the spotlight, going forward.

Time is a portrait of how much someone has to fight when a loved one is stuck within the prison-industrial complex. It’s a daily struggle, not just to try and free that person, especially if they’ve been given an unjust sentence, but the toll that it takes at home, for the family. It’s a devastating issue, on so many levels. You see that depicted here in a clear and emotional manner, one that’s never manipulative, but certainly effective in its methods.

Other docs have chosen to tackle the system in a facts and figures manner. There’s nothing wrong with that. Ava DuVernay‘s documentary 13th is a terrific example of mixing in a number of issues but keeping incarceration a focus. Time, however, has something else up its sleeve, and it helps to forge its own mournful yet unique identity.

Shot in black and white, the documentary is a combination of video diaries and present day footage, telling the story of Fox Rich and her husband Rob G. Rich. The two of them robbed a bank while struggling as business owners, resulting in a short sentence for her, but a 60 year term for him. Now a mother of six boys and a successful entrepreneur, Fox has crusaded to try and right this wrong, bringing Rob home. Over the years, she’s recorded videos for him, detailing her life, their family, and the struggle at hand.

As she continues to live her life and fight her fight, a portrait of the daily mourning that happens in this situation takes shape. Time never tries to manipulate your emotions, but watching Fox in either form, it’s hard not to feel for her terrible situation and wish that something more could be done.

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Watching Fox Rich’s video diaries can be downright heartbreaking. She’s a success story, to be sure, but her story won’t be complete until her husband gets out of jail and comes home. Even as she’s shown as a great mother and strong businesswoman, the hole in her heart is clear. Time never loses sight of that, which is essential to the film’s success.

Filmmaker Garrett Bradley utilizes a mix of Fox Rich’s video diaries and the life she’s currently living, the documentary has pretty impeccable direction. Bradley focuses almost solely on Fox, making sure her struggle, both to free her husband, as well as to be a good mother, is depicted with a full scope. You care not just about her issue and her fight, but about her life, too.

Time only has one small flaw, and it’s in the way it suggests so many other avenues to explore during its short running time. At under 90 minutes long, the pace needs to be tight, and it is, but periodically one sense an opportunity to broaden the conversation. Perhaps it’s less a flaw than a missed opportunity, but it’s something that’s easy to notice, even as you’re admiring the movie.

NYFF has another strong documentary on its hands here in 2020 with Time. As long as you don’t get tripped up by the focus on this one family and their story, there’s plenty to dig into here. With emotive filmmaking, Bradley invests you in the Rich clan. You care about what happens to them. If everyone cared about every prisoner like this, things might finally change…

SCORE: ★★★

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Written by Joey Magidson

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