Director James Gray takes us back to 1980s Queens, New York and we get to experience life through the lens of 6th grader Paul Graff (Banks Repeta), who Gray based on his upbringing. Armageddon Time is a sweet look into the conflict a young adolescent faces throughout this time, including racism among peers, family values conflicting, and mustering up the courage to stand for what you believe in.
The film is grounded in realism. As a high school educator, I know kids can be rude and declare whatever is on their mind; this film accurately depicts how middle school kids talk and interact with each other. They curse, they don’t always make upstanding choices, and they can be rude and defiant. Banks Repeta nails Paul Graff, a creative teenage boy who does have a sweet artistic side to his character, but is also quick to ignore his parents and do what Paul wants. In one scene, Paul’s mom Ester (Anne Hathaway) tells the family she made dinner and they are not going to order food delivery. Despite this demand, Paul gets on the phone and orders not only what Paul wants but inputs orders for other family members. The adolescent loves to draw and explains he is not sure if he wants to go to college. “You’re going to college,” Hathaway’s character anxiously assures. Audiences will appreciate the raw behavior of the characters that truly reflects reality and the conflicts that they each face.
Racism is also addressed in a complex manner. Jaylin Webb plays Paul’s African American friend, Johnny, who is in 6th grade again due to being held back. Johnny is defiant towards his teachers (in one scene he gets sent out for cursing his teacher, Mr. Turkeltaub, out). In another scene he convinces Paul to smoke with him in the school restroom and once caught, Paul’s PTA involved mother is furious and insinuates that Paul shouldn’t be involved with black kids. This is compelling because in reality Johnny is not a great influence for Paul but it’s not because of the color of his skin; that factor just adds to the preconceived beliefs that Paul’s mom has about African Americans. Many people work up to the expectations those around them have and because character’s like Paul’s mom and Mr. Turkeltaub do not think highly of Johnny, it makes me wonder if these low expectations coupled with Johnny’s home life result in his eruptive behavior. Even Paul’s peers judge Paul for being friends with Johnny and that is absolutely heartbreaking to think this judgment was normalized accepted behavior.
Cinematographer Darius Khondji creates a beautiful nostalgic film that truly feels like the 1980s. The film is incredibly warm throughout its daytime scenes and features a variety of shots that are composed in an aesthetically pleasing manner.
Actors deliver compelling performances. Repeta does a terrific job at balancing charm and adolescent rebellion. Anthony Hopkins portrays Paul’s grandpa, the only one who seems to get through to Paul without a fight. Hopkins is always a joy to see on screen; his smile and tone of voice reminds you of a kind, yet bold, loving and supportive grandpa. Jeremy Strong is Paul’s dad, whose highlight performance is when he comes home to learn of Paul’s school misbehavior; he roars trying to get into the family restroom Paul is fearfully hiding in.
Armageddon Time is the 9th film James Gray has sat in the director’s chair for and his experience effectively communicates empathy and raw emotion through his characters within this picture. Audiences turned off by rebellious teenage angst may struggle to connect with the characters but those who will empathize with these characters, despite their flaws, will have an intriguing experience with Armageddon Time.
|Final Verdict:||A sweet look into the conflict a young adolescent faces; the film is grounded in realism, looks gorgeous, and features compelling acting.|