James Gray isn’t the first or the last, in fact, Steven Spielberg has a story of his upbringing coming out in a couple of weeks called The Fablemans, a director who has decided to tell his semi-autobiographical story of his youth. And what it was like growing up in a Jewish family. In the 70s and 80s. Coming-of-age films are a staple of Hollywood so this film Armageddon Time is a movie that will surely resonate with some audiences.
Paul Graff (Michael Banks Repeta) is a rambunctious kid. He doesn’t do that well in school and he tends to get into trouble with his teacher. While in a New York public school he meets and befriends a Black boy named Johnny (Jaylin Webb) The two of them get along pretty well, but when Paul gets in trouble one too many times he is sent to a private school. The only person in his life that he likes and listens to is his grandfather, played by two-time Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins. He just seems to understand this young man.
James Gray creates a great aesthetic for his story of misplaced youth. The setting of the film is great. There is a grainy and gritty look to the movie that makes it look fantastic. This era of history is distinct in its look. The technical departments and score are all on par with the terrific world he is creating for the film. The production design and cinematography look amazing and that helps create the world he was going for perfectly.
Along with all the technical aspects of this movie also come the performances by the incredible cast that Gray has assembled. Besides the kids that is. Jeremy Strong and Anne Hathaway play the main kids’ parents. And they are very distinct in the nature of how they present these characters. Strong is very in your face as this father who doesn’t take a lot of crap from his son and Hathaway is a good mother figure but she has a breakdown from a tragedy that happens in the movie. This family was very reminiscent of people I knew growing up as a kid. These people were like the family I knew in my neighborhood. It is kind of scary how these people remind me of my own upbringing.
Armageddon Time might seem like an odd title for this type of film but if you really think about it’s the perfect title. When you’re a kid or a young teen these years of your life are important. For Gray, it seemed like they were very important. He gives this story a gravity where it’s very important for this child to learn some difficult lessons about life. It’s not easy! So in other words this part of a child’s or teen’s life is an explosive time in their lives. It sure was for me that’s why this film resonated with me so much. My childhood was a difficult one but certain people made it better the older I got. People very similar to Hopkins’s character. Also, the father figure played by Strong was very similar to my father. I think even though I am Irish Catholic my life and this boy’s was very similar in a lot of ways.
Gray made this film with a lot of love and affection toward some of his family members and a specific childhood friend. As a coming-of-age film, this one works very well. It brings the audience into his world and the problems he faced and how the difficulties affected his mother and father. Armageddon Time is a great title that reflects the gravity of a child or teen’s life at this age. With great performances from Hopkins, Strong, and Hathaway Gray captures this lifestyle perfectly. I was completely enamored with this film. And its look, feel, and aesthetic.
4 ½ stars
Dan Skip Allen