There’s no shortage of true crime documentaries on streaming services lately, films and mini-series that chronicle the ins and outs of murders and heists and frauds that audiences eat up like candy. So focused on the salacious details of the crime they chronicle, rarely do these projects shift their focus to the actual people involved, those whose lives are impacted indefinitely, and often in ways invisible to all but those who know the situation best. Filmmaker Garrett Bradley takes just such a turn in the deeply humanizing documentary Time, a fascinating chronicle of one woman’s life-long journey through the criminal justice system on behalf of her husband and for the sake of her family.
In a way only possible since the dawn of camera phones and portable video recorders, Time weaves together footage from over 20 years of Fox Rich’s life with observational documentation of her day-to-day life as a wife, mother, car saleswoman and unwavering advocate for justice. Twenty years ago, Rich (Sibil Richardson) was young and in love, recording sweet moments with her beau Robert. High school sweethearts, they’ll go on to have six children together, but for now they’re working to build a better life in Louisiana for themselves and their future family by a clothing store. As we get to know the couple and their boys, Bradley allows Rich’s story to unfold in a way that ensures their humanity stays front and center throughout. Though this is a film about poor decisions made and the way a broken system can eat up someone’s entire life, it’s a film about people, a family that just wants to be together, to live and love and grow and prosper.
So when Rich does finally recount how she and Robert were involved in an armed robbery that results in very serious charges and an incongruous 60-year prison sentence for Robert, the “true crime” nature of it all is a distant, fleeting thought. What, how or why it happened isn’t what’s important now, 20 years later, with Robert still behind bars and Rich a thriving businesswoman, mother, public speaker and advocate in her husband’s name. This is a woman who has worked for everything she has, who has raised her children and built a career on her own terms, all without the support of a partner who should’ve been home with her to do it. Instead, she’s carved time out of her very busy life to tirelessly advocate for his release, navigating a system set up to keep people in it once they’ve entered its bureaucratic web.
Though primarily centered on the present day in the weeks before Robert’s latest parole hearing and Rich’s seemingly endless calls to the court to inquire about his status, the heart and soul of the film is Rich’s own trove of home movies, video diaries shared with Robert about their young sons and growing family. Pregnant with twins Justus and Freedom when Robert first went to prison, the boys are now 18-year-old young men, thriving in school and a testament to their parents’ commitment to them and their brothers. The passage of time in these home movies only underscores how much Robert has missed as he waits for the system to realize what he and Rich already know: his sentence was a gross injustice that in no way fit the crime and, with his debt to society paid, the time for him to be released is long overdue.
Bradley has skillfully assembled a film with many meaningful themes, and it’s likely that different audiences will respond to different aspects of the narrative, from the impact of over-incarceration on families to how quickly time passes when our lives are consumed by purpose and ambition. For me, I found Rich herself the most compelling aspect of the film; as much as this is a film about grander things, it’s also a riveting portrait of a complicated, driven and inspiring woman who’ll stop at nothing to realize the life she knows she’s capable of creating. Rarely can a documentary (save, perhaps, Apted’s Up series) feature one subject’s life so completely and in such an unfiltered way; the unfiltered glimpse into her younger days via her own home movies makes her journey all the more relatable, as she learns and grows in her own confidence over the years. And in the time Bradley’s cameras are on her, it’s fascinating to watch Rich navigate the various spaces she inhabits, from conversations with prospective customers seeking lines of credit on a vehicle clearly out of their price range to others with the court clerks and secretaries keeping her from getting a straight answer on her husband’s case. It’s a deft act for anyone to juggle all their various identities so seamlessly, and Rich is a master at it.
Ultimately, Time is as much a testament to Rich’s resiliency and persistence as it is an indictment of the system that has kept this family apart for two decades. Without ever setting foot in a courtroom, the film establishes that system’s far-reaching influence on the lives of so many who come into contact with it. By the final scenes, Bradley has taken us on a decades-long journey with Rich, Robert and their children, bringing that impact into sharp focus and making it impossible to deny the human cost of it all.
Time is now playing at Landmark Century Cinema and arrives on Amazon Prime Video on October 16. Please follow venue, state and CDC health and safety guidelines if attending indoor screenings.