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Review: ‘Armageddon Time’, When Art Imitates Life

(L to R) Jaylin Webb stars as Johnny Crocker and Michael Banks Repeta stars as Paul Graff in director James Gray's ARMAGEDDON TIME, a Focus Features release. Courtesy of Focus Features

Director: James Gray

Writer: James Gray

Stars: Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, Banks Repeta, Jaylin Webb, Anthony Hopkins

‘Armageddon Time’ is a deeply personal coming-of-age tale that is loosely based on director James Gray’s own childhood experiences. Set it in the early 80s in New York City, we follow a white Jewish student, Paul (played by Banks Repeta), an eleven-year-old who is just beginning secondary school at a public school in Queens. Paul dreams of becoming a famous artist but is often easily distracted. He faces a lot of bullying, and gets a lot of sympathy from a fellow student named Johnny (played by Jaylin Webb), an African-American student who is often belittled and humiliated by racist and unsympathetic teachers, adults and students. Johnny also has huge dreams of one day working for NASA to become an astronaut.

(L to R) Michael Banks Repeta stars as Paul Graff and Jaylin Webb stars as Johnny Crocker in director James Gray’s ARMAGEDDON TIME, a Focus Features release. Courtesy of Anne Joyce/Focus Features

Paul and Johnny develop a strong friendship, but this bond also lands the pair in a lot of trouble. This leads Paul’s parents, worried mother Esther (Anne Hathaway), who’s running for election for the local school board, and his strict and aggressive father Irving (Jeremy Strong) to send Paul to boarding school to keep him away from Johnny and try get him on the right path. Both parents mean well, but they struggle to understand him. Paul finds support and sympathy from his beloved grandfather Aaron (Anthony Hopkins) who supports and encourages Paul in his artistic endeavors and his social beliefs.

(L to R) Michael Banks Repeta as “Paul Graff” and Anthony Hopkins as “Grandpa Aaron Rabinowitz” in director James Gray’s ARMAGEDDON TIME, a Focus Features release. Courtesy of Anne Joyce / Focus Features

Gray captures the chaotic and dysfunctional dynamic of this close-knit family brilliantly, and watching it all unfold on screen I related to both kids problems, because a lot of it I had experienced myself growing up. ‘Armageddon Time’ excellently sketches out the tragic arc of the boys’ friendship and personal lives so well, and the use of a color tone on screen captures the perfect mood.

From start to finish I was engrossed in this story, and as I stated before, I have lived out a lot of their experiences, and it hit me in the heart I have to admit. That type of feeling in film is attributed to the solid performances from the ensemble cast. Hopkins delivers a sympathetic performance as the grandfather who everyone needed in life. He is given some moving and insightful dialogue, which only some one with his class could deliver. Repeta also gives a standout performance as the confused, anxious and troubled Paul, that gradually earns the audience’s sympathy. Hathaway as always brings a certain element of grace, warmth and heart to her characters, and is amazing as Paul’s mother. Jessica Chastain also makes a small cameo as Donald Trump’s sister Maryanne.

Anne Hathaway stars as Esther Graff in director James Gray’s ARMAGEDDON TIME, a Focus Features release. Courtesy of Anne Joyce/Focus Features

‘Armageddon Time’ has an excellent cast, who give standout performances. Gray raises a lot of issues in this film, but deals with them intelligently. At the end of this movie, a patron said “that was a weird movie”, but all I can say to that is “you obviously didn’t understand it”. ‘Armageddon Time’ is a deeply personal story about the strength of family, the complexity of friendship, and the generational pursuit of the American Dream. I highly recommend it.

‘Armageddon Time’ is out now.


Socials: @neillfrazer

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