Courtesy, Focus Features

Movie Review: Armageddon Time

12:00 November 09, 2022
By: Fritz Esker

Writer/director James Gray's Armageddon Time is a well-made, albeit dreary, look back on the fortunes of two rebellious kids in 1980 Queens.

Paul Graff (Banks Repeta) is a 6th grader with artistic talent. He dreams of being a painter, and is completely uninterested in school work. Paul is Jewish and lives with a family who can afford to send his older brother to a prestigious private school but liberal enough to want Paul to try public schools. Paul bonds with Johnny Davis (Jaylin Webb), a Black student who has been held back a grade and lives in poverty with a grandmother rapidly descending into senility.

One day, Paul and Johnny are caught smoking weed on campus. The Graff family insists on sending Paul to his brother's private school (where Fred Trump is a benefactor). Johnny, meanwhile, is dropping out of school and dodging attempts to send him into foster care.

The movie has the courage to make its young characters not always likable. Paul is often a jerk. Only his grandfather (the great Anthony Hopkins) seems to elicit the best in him. The boys do behave badly in school. But because Paul's grandparents have money (and later on, because his dad once happened to do a favor for a local cop), Paul has a much better chance of being put on the right path than Johnny. There's also nuance in how the film depicts Paul's father (Jeremy Strong), who has a violent temper but is still depicted with thoughtfulness and compassion. There are a few moments when Gray underlines his themes a bit too heavy-handedly, but those are largely the exceptions.

Armageddon Time is also notable for being perhaps the least romantic portrayal of the 1980s ever put to film. Some reviews praise the film for being "anti-nostalgic," which seems odd. Nostalgia isn't inherently good or bad - sometimes people over-romanticize the past (including the 1980s) but we don't live in the best of all possible worlds right now, either, and there were also moments of joy and fun in the imperfect past. Neither rosy romanticism or gloomy cynicism fully encapsulates any era.

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