Film Review: “Time” on Prime Video

From+rogerebert.com.+

From rogerebert.com.

Dean Robbins, Arts Editor

Garrett Bradley’s newest documentary “Time” is on a campaign for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards. It already has over thirty nominations. On Metacritic, a site that aggregates film critic reviews, the film holds a 91 out of 100. I, today, come with unfortunate news. “Time” is one of the worst mainstream documentaries of the last several years.

“Time” follows the Rich family as they struggle with a member being in prison. Fox Rich, the family’s matriarch, is a sort of motivational speaker and self-described entrepreneur. About twenty years ago, Fox and her husband Rob robbed a bank to save their dying retail store. Fox pled guilty and got a smaller sentence. Rob did not plead and was sentenced to sixty years in prison. The documentary is in black-and-white, composed of Fox’s home videos over the years and new present-day footage of the family. So what is the problem?

The easiest problem to tackle is that “Time” should have stayed a short, as originally intended. Everything the film has to offer can be easily condensed into twenty minutes. Here is the film in a nutshell: the double entendre of the title, the constancy of the black-and-white as a reflection of the consistency and length of time that Rob has been in prison, and a family’s struggle over his absence.

The first piece alone sums up most of the movie and does not even require one to watch it. The black-and-white gimmick works but exercises all its depth within the first ten or so minutes. The final piece is the one with the most potential to justify the film’s feature length. This component does not save it because it is horribly underdeveloped. The filmmakers never thought to ask the children about the situation beyond a few obvious words like “we miss him”. Part of the reason for this is because there is just not a lot to this situation. Many families have unfortunately dealt with the long-term absence of a family member and all “Time” does is show it in plain terms. Look at this footage from twenty years ago when said family member was gone and look at this new footage where said family member is still gone. That is this movie. You have now seen it. This criticism is still just one of many I have against this film.

The second major problem with “Time” is something I already hinted at. There is nothing particularly interesting about the situation of the Rich family. That reality is itself unfortunate. The issue is that “Time” acts as if the Rich family’s situation is a commentary of many much larger societal problems that it is not. First off, many people have treated “Time” as an important documentary on racism in America. This is a lie. The component that directly applies to racism is that Rob got a sixty-year sentence, which is clearly (I guess?) far too long. “Time” barely discusses this. Bradley could have spotlighted other sentences for the same crime, but she did not. Bradley or Fox Rich never make any statement on what should have happened. What sentence should they have gotten? Bradley could have discussed the concept of restorative justice. What would that have looked like? You may say to yourself that this was missing because Bradley and Rich had no answer. That may be correct. Still, the entire film rests upon this query.

As the film went on, I found myself increasingly less sympathetic to the Rich family. Director Bradley and the Rich family asked that I felt especially sympathetic for a family with a concern that is almost universal. The film is not a deep look at injustice or mass incarceration. “Time” is about the absence of a close relative over a long period that is rendered conceptually and re-iterated ad nauseum until you die and the sun dies and the universe collapses in onto itself. And that is it. That is all. That is “Time”.

3/10.