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USA 2022
Directed by
James Gray
114 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Armageddon Time

The title of James Gray’s latest film, Armageddon Time, seems rather disproportionate for what is a refreshingly low-key coming-of-age story.

The setting is the 1980s at the time of the Presidential election that would put Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office. Eleven year-old Paul (Michael Banks Repeta) is a sixth grader living with his father, Irving (Jeremy Strong), mother (Anne Hathaway), and older brother Ted (Ryan Sell) in Queens. While feeling the first throes of teen rebellion he idolizes his Holocaust-surviving grandfather (Anthony Hopkins) who encourages him to be a "mensch" and to go his own way.

Paul attends the local public school where he befriends Johnny (Jaylin Webb) a black kid in whom he recognizes a kindred spirit. The two are regularly in trouble however and his parents decide to send him to a private school (one to which coincidentally Fred Trump sent his children, the future President Donald and future judge, Maryanne). Paul is divided between wanting to fit in with the students at his new school and his friendship with Johnny.

Writer/director Gray based the film on his own experiences and this seems to have endowed him with a quiet confidence in dealing with his subject matter. There is no straining for effect either dramatically or cinematically but rather a convincing sense of everydayness, well-photographed by Darius Khondji, whilst the specifics of that mundanity are deftly integrated with a sense of the larger place and times.

Whilst Hopkins, needless to say, plays his part effortlessly he seems a strange casting choice as he makes no attempt to conceal his Welsh lilt beneath a Jewish accent. Hathaway is not an actor I am particular fond of but she is very good as the loving mother who also is feeling overwhelmed by her lot in life. Repeta was quite a find. Not only is he damn cute he gives a winning performance, his Paul combining an irrepressible and irresistible enthusiasm for life with keen sensitivity. Webb doesn’t have the cute factor but he too is very effective in his role although that is rather limited by Gray’s script (in this respect he might have been the black kid in the 2008 comedy Role Models). The father and brother roles are at best sketchily handled and could have done with a little more attention particularly in the case of Strong who switches from genial to abusive with little apparent justification.

So don’t be misled by the title, Armageddon Time is an engagingly understated film that will reward your attention.




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