Truly magnificent. With this coming-of-age story, writer/director James Gray (We Own the Night, Ad Astra) has granted his audience a very intimate and realistic look into the portrayal of a family. Once I watched it, I wasn’t too surprised to learn that this is, in fact, based on Gray’s personal upbringing. His family was sometimes in sync with one another but, more often than not, at great odds.
Through Paul (Banks Repeta), Gray seems to be working out some of his innermost private thoughts and beliefs.
We’re in New York; it’s 1980, and Paul is in the sixth grade. He’s a bright student but can’t help getting into trouble. His cantankerous teacher, Mr. Turkeltaub (Andrew Polk), hopes to ignite a fire in Paul to behave. Since he’s prone to do things that get him sent to the principal’s office, he mostly gets something taken away instead, like his gym privileges. Paul and his friend Johnny (Jaylin Webb) like to make the other students laugh by making fun of Mr. Turkeltaub the moment he turns his back. He’s an easy mark. Because of all this troublemaking, people think Paul is slow, and completely incorrigible. Some suggest he take remedial courses.
His mother, Esther (Hathaway), father, Irving (Strong) and his favorite person in the world, his Grandpa Aaron Rabinowitz (Hopkins), want to put Paul into a private school. It’s a lot of money, but they want him to have the life chances they didn’t. His grandpa drills meaningful life tips into his brain whenever he gets the chance. Hearing that Paul’s friend Johnny, who he’s been getting into trouble with, is black, his grandfather explains that Paul must stick up for him. He isn’t shy about explaining to Paul what has happened to Jews and people of color in the past, making sure the boy understands that it can all happen again. His best advice to the youngster is, “Remember your past.”
A large part of the narrative is focused on Paul and his pal. Still, a very realistic portrayal of family, especially siblings, is portrayed when he’s with his family. Paul and his brother get into one another’s business, yell at each other and fight a lot. It’ll take you back to your own childhood, if you had brothers and/or sisters, when touching was not allowed, nor was having your own opinion without being called an idiot for not agreeing with theirs.
I was deeply involved in the storyline of “Armageddon Time” and in love with the characters. The movie felt a bit bombastic at times, but for good reason. Gray’s engrossing autobiographical yarn pulls you into what he recalls of his life, reminding you of your own. The writing and directing were superb, as if the subject matter was close to him in every way. Maybe you or even he didn’t go through exactly what we see here, but pieces of the movie will seem familiar to what you either went through or witnessed in other homes.
The point of the film, with what Paul’s grandfather passed down to the boy and what Gray is telling his audience about his upbringing, is that you must know what once was to move beyond it. To make change where it needs to be made.
This is a delightful film with a sensational cast, each and every one of them was remarkable in their own way.
I recommend you watch “Armageddon Time” the moment you get a chance. It’s one of my favorites of the year. Every time I think I’ve homed in on my front-runner for best picture, another contender rolls in. That’s what we have here.
For more information, please follow the film on social:
Armageddon Time Movie Review
Director/Writer: James Gray
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, Banks Repeta, Jaylin Webb, Tovah Feldshuh, Ryan Sell, and Anthony Hopkins
Rating: R (Some Drug Use Involving Minors|Language)
Runtime: 1h 54m
Producers: Anthony Katagas, Marc Butan, Rodrigo Teixeira, James Gray
Executive Producers: Alan Terpins, Marco Tulio Kehdi, Francisco Civita, Beto Gauss, Gustavo Debs, Lourenco Sant’Anna
Distributor: Focus Features