Best of 2020: Time (2020) Review

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Documentaries are usually films with a message or a purpose. The purpose could be as simple as highlighting something, putting a spotlight on someone’s life, telling a story which people may not have been aware of or at their most extreme, becoming vehicles for change. As you watch Time, you are led to believe that the film is wanting a change, something about the criminal system, particularly for African-Americans, but as the film progresses, the purpose of the film becomes muddled.

This doesn’t mean Time isn’t compelling or that you ever lose interest. In fact, the reverse is the case. The film follows the period of time in Fox Rich’s life where she is raising her four children while trying desperately to campaign for the release of her husband from prison.

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The story of Fox Rich and her family is an inspiring one

There is no doubt that Fox Rich’s story is an inspiring one. She is clearly determined to ensure her sons have the best possible life and don’t fall into the same “traps” that people with their particular familial backgrounds have before. This is seen best when not recorded by the “professional” camera crew but by Fox herself, recording home videos to share with her incarcerated husband when he is finally released.

The documentary does a good job of capturing this family and all their hopes, dreams and aspirations, as well as their desperation to see the father and husband released. There are moments of raw emotion and rage. One scene where Fox is seemingly dismissed on the phone, having made the same call days on end, goes from polite smiles and considerations to pure rage within moments. You feel what it means to have the man of her life back.

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The film shows Fox’s rage perfectly

This is where the movie stumbles though. The revelation of why her husband (and her for a short while) were put in prison, is not a tale of unfair incarceration or even unjust sentencing. The pair committed a crime and her husband is serving the sentence given to him. Fox is annoyed by this but she is also never clear on what aspect angers her, be it the length of sentence, the appeals process or whatever else. She is angry but you can’t feel that her anger is actually justified at all.

This film lacks the justification for her rage which means it also lacks the justification for the movie itself. Fox does speeches, inspires people with her impressive story of raising a successful family, but you can never quite work out what change (other than having her husband back) she is actually campaigning for.

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You are left wondering whether Fox’s rage is justified

Of course, this isn’t enough to undo the respect and investment you have in her story. You want Fox to succeed and although I want to avoid “spoiling” the ending, the final scenes are so full of joy and so emotional that you wonder whether the purpose of the film should have been showcasing how remarkable a woman Fox Rich really is.

Overall, Time is a documentary with a muddled purpose. It is a film which showcases an impressive woman who has worked hard to ensure her family succeed despite their circumstances but the main focus of the film is anger aimed in a direction which doesn’t seem justified with little idea of what it wants to achieve. Luckily there is enough about Fox Rich that you get swept up in her story anyway.

Rating – 4

(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)

Garrett Bradley's Time is a beautiful film about the ugly truth of US  prisons
The people involved make the film compelling but the message feels muddled

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