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Review: Time (2020)

Time (2020)

Directed by: Garrett Bradley

Premise: A documentary about the Richardson family and their twenty year struggle with the justice system. The father of the family was sentenced to sixty years in prison for a bank robbery and his wife and children petition to get him paroled.

What Works: Time impresses as an editing project. The film consists of footage shot over a twenty year period on various formats including home video tape and digital cameras. The filmmakers have assembled this footage into a coherent narrative and rendered the images in black and white which gives the picture a mostly cohesive look.

What Doesn’t: Time is intended to be a persuasive documentary and it fails. The filmmakers argue that Rob Richardson’s lengthy prison sentence was unjust and that the institution of incarceration itself is wrong. There is certainly a case to be made for the former argument; following the attempted bank robbery, Rob Richardson was sentenced to sixty years, effectively a life sentence for a crime in which no one was killed or injured. However, Time doesn’t really make that case. The filmmakers never present a discernable argument against the length of Richardson’s sentence. There’s no comparison between Richardson’s punishment and sentences meted out for equivalent crimes nor do the filmmakers argue the limited social impact of the robbery. Instead, Time relies almost entirely on pathos appeals. We virtually never hear from Rob Richardson; most of Time unfolds from the point of view of his wife Fox who spent three and a half years in prison for her part in the robbery. Even at eighty-one minutes, Time is a drag with repeated scenes of Fox Richardson calling lawyers and corrections offices. The repetitiousness is part of the point but there’s no substance to the argument. Fox Richardson admits that the robbery was wrong but this acknowledgment comes across cursory and begrudging. Relying almost solely on pathos and lacking any discernable argument, Time plays less like a call for justice and much more like a pity party and an evasion of personal responsibility. The documentary also fails as a critique of the prison system. Here too there is a legitimate argument to be made – as Ava DuVurney did in 13th – but Time never makes an argument against incarceration. There’s plenty of scenes of Fox and others stating that incarceration is wrong and that it has hurt the family but that’s the entire extent of the film’s argument. In fact, some elements of Time undercut this point. We’re offered little evidence of the hardship of having a parent in prison and the oldest children have apparently grown into successful young adults.

DVD extras: Currently available on Amazon.

Bottom Line: There are important and powerful arguments to be made against the carceral state but Time is not it. The documentary is an empty exercise in self-pity that actually undermines the very arguments it is trying to make.

Episode: #841 (February 28, 2021)