Andrea’s Angle | “Armageddon Time” – Brilliant Coming-of-Age Story

When I watched the trailers for Armageddon Time, one of the first things that captivated me was that it depicted much of the casual racism of the eighties, even in the clips of the film. That, combined with a cast that includes Anthony Hopkins, Anne Hathaway, and Jeremy Strong, led me to believe that this would be a film with strong performances and a story that dealt with some complex issues. After watching, young actor Michael Banks Repeta shines as Paul Graff. His performances resonate emotionally, and the film’s writing brilliantly depicts his coming-of-age story as difficult and introspective.

Armageddon Time is a coming-of-age drama written, directed, and produced by James Gray, inspired by his upbringing in Queens, New York, during the 1980s. The film follows Jewish-American Paul Graff (Michael Banks Repeta) and his family. In the film, Paul starts sixth grade as the class clown, making friends with African-American Johnny (Jaylin Webb). The two bond quickly, but when the pair stir up trouble, it is Johnny who bears the brunt of the misbehavior. When Paul’s parents (Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong) find out what the boys are up to, he is sent to the private school his brother attends. Paul is quickly introduced to prejudice and racism. Paul’s grandfather, Aaron (Anthony Hopkins), attempts to teach Paul about family and lessons about being good to those less fortunate. But ultimately, Paul learns that the world is frequently unfair. He struggles with growing up and incorporating the harshness of that hard truth.

(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

What this film excels in is the writing. Most coming-of-age films give us a lesson for the young person to learn and a happy ending, but this film grapples with much more complex issues and avoids the easy path. In the story, Paul describes his family as rich to his friend Johnny. In truth, they live in a small house and are nowhere near wealthy. However, they have more than Johnny, who doesn’t even have a mother but lives with his grandmother, who can barely take care of herself, let alone Johnny. The film explores the differences in the pair’s status and that Paul is fortunate to have the privilege of attending a good school. While both must grapple with prejudice and racism, Paul is luckier than Johnny and has more chances to escape his circumstances and his bad choices. He also has a supportive family who takes care of him. Johnny doesn’t have these same chances. The comparison between the two and how Paul learns from what happens to both of them is what makes the film so fantastic. The ending also doesn’t give us a concrete ending, but one that allows the audience to reflect on the harsh truths Paul has learned. And the introduction of the name Trump at Paul’s school gives us another layer of complexity.

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

The story is also a perfect representation of a Jewish family. And both Irving, Paul’s father, and Esther, his mother, are complex. They grapple with making the right choices for their children, and both come from families that came to America to escape death and prejudice. Now, they want their children to do better than themselves. But Irving gets angry and does not show emotion easily, while Esther spoils her son in many ways. Aaron, Paul’s grandfather, teaches his grandson lessons of respect but also teaches him to learn and take advantage of his opportunities. They deal with generational lessons but embrace family.

(L to R) Anne Hathaway stars as Esther Graff and Jeremy Strong stars as Irving Graff in director James Gray’s ARMAGEDDON TIME, a Focus Features release. Courtesy of Anne Joyce/Focus Features

The acting is profoundly good. Michael Banks Repeta gives us an emotional performance as Paul, and Jaylin Webb is equally exceptional as Johnny, illustrating the complexity of being different from their peers. Anne Hathaway is especially restrained in her performance as Esther, keeping her emotions minimal and adding just the right touch to her role. Jeremy Strong is excellent as Irving, fluctuating from worried to angry, caring to strict. Anthony Hopkins shines as Aaron, portraying Paul’s grandfather as wise and caring. The performances highlight the beautiful writing.

(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

If there is anything that threw me off, it’s that the story takes time to build and is a slower story. I also happen to appreciate a more closed ending. The ending for this film is open-ended and open to interpretation. While objectively, I can call it brilliant, it pulls me off balance and leaves me unsettled. Given that the truths that Paul learns are difficult ones, that is absolutely the right choice. However, that type of ending might be more difficult for audience-goers to enjoy.

Anyone who enjoys a performance-driven film with a complex story will want to go see this movie. Driven by interesting characters, dealing with race and prejudice, and a coming-of-age story that is emotional and resonating, it is well deserving of accolades. It handles the topics with sensitivity but also authentically. The emotional and skilled performances of Anthony Hopkins, Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, Michael Banks Repeta, and Jaylin Webb will linger within me.

Rating: 5 out of 5 rockets.

Official Website: Armageddon Time | Official Website | October 28 2022
Facebook: @ArmageddonTime
Instagram: @armageddontimefilm
Twitter: @ArmageddonFilm
Hashtag: #ArmageddonTime

 

Armageddon Time

Genre: Drama

From acclaimed filmmaker James Gray, ARMAGEDDON TIME is a deeply personal reflection on the strength of family, the complexity of friendship and the realities of class and privilege, seen through the eyes of a young Jewish boy growing up in 1980s Queens. The film features an all-star cast including Anthony Hopkins, Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong.
ARMAGEDDON TIME opens in select theaters on Friday, November 4, 2022 and opens wide on Friday, November 11, 2022.

ONE-LINER: A deeply personal coming-of-age story about the strength of family and the generational pursuit of the American Dream.


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