Director/ Garrett Bradley
Watched on Amazon
Fragments of home video shot over the past twenty years are interspersed throughout this fractured chronicle of a woman named Fox Rich and her relentless campaign to secure the early release of her husband, Rob, from prison. Both he and his wife were convicted of armed robbery when desperation over the loss of their clothing business led them to attempt an ill-fated and illegal self-rescue. She did a few years before her release; he was sentenced to sixty years without the possibility of parole. The film spends surprisingly little time on the details of the crime, and also doesn’t seem to be an all-out manifesto on the criminal justice system. Yes, Fox and her husband are Black, but they aren’t denying they were guilty. Instead, the movie seems to be making the point that once in prison, the efforts made by loved ones to plead, appeal, cajole, and interrogate the bureaucracy of incarceration can be a lonely and frustrating crusade. All Fox wants is for her husband to come home and be a father to the children he was unable to watch grow-up.
The children, especially twin boys, are the background characters in this black-and-white film, directed by Garrett Bradley with an eye toward poetic mosaics and screen-engulfing close-ups. The young men show up in the home videos their mother began making when Rob went to jail, and they appear in the contemporary footage as now handsome, studious teens on the cusp of adulthood. Despite their parents’ criminal past, the boys thrived, and much of their strength of character can be attributed to their mother. In addition to her arduous campaign to get parole for Rob–seen mostly through scenes of her waiting for judges to respond to her phone calls–Fox has become a passionate and powerful public speaker and a self-made businesswoman, all the while remaining a patient, no-nonsense mother to her children, which include four others in addition to the twins.
It’s in these details–the ages and faces of her kids, the day-to-day routines of running a business, the life of her husband in jail–where Time left me frustrated. I couldn’t seem to get a clear handle on exactly how many kids she had (6, I think), their names and ages, where they were living, or what they thought of their mother and father. I don’t think a shot of a simple family photo or a few wide shots in general would have violated Bradley’s aesthetic rigor. Nor would a basic chronology of events have unbalanced the tone of the movie, which embraces non-linearity as a kind of statement against coherence. The prepared narratives read by Fox and the twins are a relief from the more common use of talking heads or snippets of verité audio to provide core exposition, but I wanted to hear more of them. Was Bradley unsure if this technique worked, or was she dissuaded by someone on her team of going too far with the device?
Time is a noticeably welcome alternative to the industry-supported pablum spilling across our streaming sites. Its monochrome palette, its embrace of jagged, cracked mirror reflections, its heartrending piano score, and the stoic presence of Rich herself make for a sometimes absorbing character study. But by the end of the movie, when what you expect will happen does finally happen, the result feels somehow anticlimactic and underserved. For all of the screen poetry leading up to the moment, the final scenes are flatly prosaic.