VIFF Review: ‘Time’ is an unforgettable indictment of the American justice system.

There is a saying: if you do the crime, you do time. It’s a popular one in certain circles, but it raises one question for me: who, exactly, determines how much time each crime is worth?

In the first frames of Time, Sibil “Fox Rich” Richardson is a young woman. Fresh out of jail, she reunited with her children and expecting two more. Instead, she has served three and a half years for driving the getaway car for her husband as he robbed a bank, a sentence she received by taking a plea bargain. Her husband, Rob, who did not accept a plea, receives 60 years, or what will most likely be the rest of his natural life.

Who decides that 60 years is an appropriate sentence for a bank robbery? I don’t have an answer to that question. I can tell you that in the absence of any death, 60 years is too much. The fact of the matter is that in many ways, and for many people, the American justice system is centred not around rehabilitation but punishment. Who is being punished with that 60-year sentence, though?

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Time is a film that attempts to answer that question. A portrait of a wife and mother left to raise her family by herself as her husband languishes in jail, Fox Rich becomes an outspoken activist for reform and a tireless fighter for Rob’s rights. Her story is presented through home videos, a treasure trove of memories and feelings that she had been creating with her family for her husband as he missed their life, as well as through footage shot by a camera crew in the present.

Entirely in black and white, a choice that directly counterpoints the grey areas in the film’s thesis, these two sets of footage form a compelling whole—a portrait of a woman who refuses to quit.

The most powerful thing about Time is that director Garret Bradley has focussed so closely on Rich and her feelings. She’s calm and composed, calling courthouses and lawyers who dismiss her without batting an eyelash toward the anguish she must feel. The one time it breaks, you can practically feel waves of anger emanating from the screen.

This, too, is the film’s weakness, though. The film is focused so closely on Rich that it fails to provide context for Rob’s original case. We know that he robbed a bank. We know that she participated, and we know that he’s received an egregious sentence, but that is about the extent of it. We are not introduced to anyone else in a similar position or even the counterpoint of a white man serving less time for the same crime.

It doesn’t present any of this extra context, but on the other hand, it’s 2020, so maybe it doesn’t need to. American cities are still seeing protests and police crackdowns months after the death of George Floyd. We all know that people of colour are treated worse by American justice already, so does the film need to show us that all over again?

There is power in the raw emotion, but without evidence, is that enough? In this way, I worry that the film is preaching to the choir. Here’s the thing, though: I am in that choir.

Time is a beautiful film that tells an entire story drawn in sadness, rage, and loss. Who is being punished with egregious prison sentences? Wives. Mothers. Sons. The American justice system needs reform. Time will show you why.

Time is available through October 7th as part of the Vancouver International Film Festival and will be released on Amazon Prime on October 16th.


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