A deeply personal coming-of-age story about the strength of family and the generational pursuit of the American Dream.
James Gray becomes the latest filmmaker to return to his childhood to make a movie, following in the recent footsteps of the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson, Paolo Sorrentino, and soon to be Steven Spielberg. ‘Armageddon Time’ is a sweet but minor coming of age movie centred on Gray’s experiences as a child (through the character Paul Graff, played by Banks Repeta) growing up in New York in 1980 as he starts 6th grade. He isn’t the most studious and spends much of his time in class drawing pictures which gets him into trouble, leading to a friendship with Johnny, a rebellious black child who has been held back a year. Paul instantly bonds with Johnny, but soon discovers that it isn’t a friendship that everybody approves of, both at school and at home.
The title of the movie relates to the time period, just before Reagan came to power, and the fear (within Paul’s family) that his election could lead to a heightened prospect of nuclear war – which is somewhat ironic given he played a major part in preventing the possibility for a generation. Banks Repeta and Jaylin Webb (who plays his friend Johnny) both deliver good performances but the movies MVP is perhaps unsurprisingly Anthony Hopkins, who plays Paul’s grandfather Aaron. He is as wonderful as he often is, playing the one man in Paul’s life who is a true mentor, given his tetchy relationship with his father (and to a lesser extent his mother). I particularly loved the scene with the rocket, which is shot to perfection by James Gray as we’re let in to a touching bonding moment between grandfather and grandson, made all the more powerful as we see much of it through the viewpoint of Paul’s mother (Anne Hathaway) who is watching on knowing that it may yet be their last.
It appears that in many respects Gray has made this movie to assuage his ‘guilt’ at his fairly privileged upbringing, and how this privilege granted him greater opportunities in life than those presented to Johnny. The movie draws several contrasts between the two of them and in particular highlights the double standards in how they are treated when they get up to the same level of mischief. Whilst there is merit in this theme, it isn’t really telling us anything we didn’t already know about racial prejudice during this time and place. The coming of age genre is one of my favourites so ‘Armageddon Time’ is a movie I was very much looking forward to, and though it has its (mainly Anthony Hopkins driven) moments, I thought this could have been a stronger and more compelling piece of work.
Directed By: James Gray
Starring: Banks Repeta, Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, Jaylin Webb and Anthony Hopkins