Armageddon Time – Film Review
by Fran Winston
Directed by: James Gray.
Starring: Banks Repeta, Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, Jaylin Webb, Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Sell, Jessica Chastain
This coming-of-age drama set in 1980s Queens, New York City, follows Jewish-American Paul Graff (Repeta) as he navigates his way through 6th Grade and all that life throws at him.
With memories of WWII fresh in his grandparent’s minds, he gets some harsh home truths about attitudes towards Jews. He also witnesses racism first-hand in the treatment of his African American friend Johnny, who suffers far harsher consequences for the mischief they get up to. Alongside this, he is already feeling pressure from his parents to abandon his dreams of being an artist in favour of a sensible profession.
This could almost be a kitchen sink drama. A lot of the action takes place in their home and there is a lot of exposition. Gray also wrote this and seems to be excavating his own past for material and some of it is quite shocking. Parents think nothing of belting their children and kids can wander out of their houses and roam the streets at night without their parents knowing. It’s the antithesis of modern parenting and attitudes.
However, although you are aware this is set in 1980 it isn’t a nostalgia fest. At its heart is the human condition. Everybody has sat through conversations with parents where they are demanding you follow the path they want you to rather than the path you desire. And we all hit a point in our lives where we realise that the world is a harsher place than the cosseted environment we become used to as young children.
Despite the relatability of the themes, this could easily become boring if it wasn’t for some excellent performances led by Repeta who is fantastic in the lead role of Paul. His wide-eyed innocence is a joy to behold and for such a young actor he has the ability to play multiple layers in a scene but make it look completely seamless. No mean feat when you share a lot of one-to-one scenes with acting titan Anthony Hopkins. Hathaway is brilliant as his stoic mother and Jeremy Strong oozes simmering resentment and tension as his father – a man who has been looked down on by everybody all his life.
This is engaging but not always entertaining. Some of the subject matter is pretty bleak and it will definitely make people hold a mirror up to their own experiences at that stage of their life. Not a great movie but it is a thought-provoking two hours that lingers after you leave the cinema.