Life is so unfair in James Gray’s coming of age drama Armageddon Time.
The film is set in 1980 New York. The nation is on the cusp of a socio-political change, with Ronald Regan about to step into the Oval office to become the 40th president the United States. The Soviets are at war with Afghanistan and the threat of Nuclear war still looms over the world.
The film follows Paul Graff (Banks Repeta), a sixth grader who dreams of becoming an artist. He’s constantly getting into trouble at school. His parents (Jeremy Strong and Anne Hathaway) say it’s all thanks to his friendship with Johnny (Jaylin Webb). He’s been held back at school, which Paul’s parents think is a bad influence.
They decide to send him to a private school, the same one as Paul’s brother. Obviously he hates the idea and finds out really quickly that it’s an even tougher environment. That won’t stop Paul and Johnny being friends.
This is the follow-up film to Gray’s Ad Astra which starred Brad Pitt. A personal film that’s inspired around the director’s own upbringing in 1980’s New York.
Many consider Ad Astra Gray’s big step up to mainstream. With exception of The Lost City of Z his films have been smaller releases or even direct to Digital or streaming services. It was a film that the studios seem to dictate rather than Gray himself. A film that had a lot of sections added after bad early previews. Armageddon Time is that film with no studio interference.
The film isn’t a disaster, it just doesn’t know what it wants to be.
He’s always looking for answers in his films. Those answers the protagonists seek aren’t always the answers they desire.
A very messy story that that is funny at times as much as it’s a gut punch. In a film in which our protagonist has Daddy issues, his grandfather (brilliantly played by Anthony Hopkins) seems to be his father figure, the true patriarch of the Graff family (or Grassersteins their full family name).
Oscar Isaacs was originally meant to play Paul’s father and Robert De Niro his grandfather. Like many films, actor’s schedules change and new actors come in.
The Graff’s are a very liberal family, chaotic in nature, sometimes guilty of contradicting in what they preach (like in racial issues). Paul even runs into a certain Donald Trump’s father Fred (John Deiehl)and Sister Marry Ann (cameo from Jessica Chastain) a former pupil of Paul’s new school.
Grandfather teaches Paul some true life, lessons, including pushing Paul on how to respond when his friend Johnny is being racially abused. His own father Irving, beats Paul senseless with his belt. Equally his family spoil him in equal measures.
For a film that purely focuses on Paul, Banks Repta has a lot of weight to carry on his shoulders. He does show much maturity, everything is seen from Paul’s eyes making everyone an enemy with exception of Grandpa Aaron.
Hopkins is really the only adult cast that gets to truly shine despite not being in the full film. Though Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong do okay to bring some parental influence on the story. Showing that life has many downs as well as many ups, parents sometimes make tough decisions.
Armageddon Time is an honest, flawed film in need of some grandfatherly direction to get back on the right path. A solid film be it a little uninspiring at times.
Drama | USA, 2022 | 15 | Cinema | Out Now | Universal Pictures | Dir.James Gray | Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, Banks Repeta, Anthony Hopkins, Jaylin Webb, Jessica Chastain, Tovah Feldshuh