In what has undoubtedly been a very strange year to watch or release a film (never mind make one), Time is one of a small handful which have made a real impression. A hit at Sundance in January, Garrett Bradley’s compelling documentary tells the striking story of Fox Richardson, an entrepreneur, mother of six and wife of Robert, a black man seeking a way out of a 60-year prison sentence.
A more important adjective to describe Fox than those, however, is “abolitionist”. A keen campaigner against the sort of punitive sentences to which her husband fell victim, Richardson’s eloquent and unforgettably emotive advocacy for a less unjust America is evidently more than enough narrative drive for Bradley. Combining home footage from across the past two decades with slick original photography, not only does Time do justice to its subjects where America cannot, Bradley’s film is also a broader thesis on the nature of memory and the toxic influence of trauma.
If it was willing to commit to a clearer exploration of that particular theme, Time would be a transcendent and (dare I say) a perfect documentary in the vein of The Thin Blue Line or Hoop Dreams. But at barely 80 minutes, Bradley doesn’t give herself quite enough room to delve deep into the ideas which make Time genuinely transcendent. Fox Richardson would be a staggering protagonist in any story, and it’s pretty clear that a sequel to this documentary would be another must-watch.
Even still, Time does what it sets out to do astoundingly well. The jarringly cinematic hue of the 2010s footage Bradley shoots has an arresting relationship with the original black-and-white home movies which serve as archival footage. That the only difference between the two is Robert’s decades-long prison sentence which robs the couple’s six sons of their father is an illustration of the cruelty of the US justice system better than all but few.
Lazy judges and ignorant juries and callous prosecutors might be enough to ruin the lives of unsuspecting black families, Fox seems to conclude, but it’s the slow cruel hands of time that give them their power.