From writer/director James Gray, comes what is obviously his most personal film so far. Based on his childhood in 1980s Queens. New York, Armageddon Time is a gorgeous looking and sometimes powerful time capsule movie that does of solid job of capturing the emotions, problems, in addition to the good times experienced by Gray and his family during the early days of the Reagan era. The movie feature an outstanding cast of talents, especially young actor Banks Repeta who takes the role of protagonist Paul Graff.
The year is 1980, and preteen Paul Graff, despite his wit and intelligence, always finds a way of getting into mischief and trouble. Paul’s working class father works hard to not only put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads, he is also sending Paul’s older brother Ted (Ryan Sell) to a prestigious private school. As for Paul, the Graffs cannot yet afford to pay tuition at the school for another child. So, he must attend the local public school where he befriends African-American classmate John (Jaylin Webb).
As the two children grow closer, they seem to get into worse trouble. However, things escalate when both Paul and Johnny get caught smoking marijuana on campus. Shocked and upset with what has happened, Paul’s parents Esther and Irving (Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong) turn to Esther’s parents Aaron (Anthony Hopkins) and Mickey Rabinowitz (Tovah Feldshuh) for the financial assistance they need to enroll him in the same private school as Ted. As Paul experiences this major change, and attempts to maintain a friendship with Johnny, he begins to get a broader look at the world around and begins to recognize the issues of racial prejudice and inequality that exists in America.
Gray and his crew do an exceptional job of immersing the audience in this era and setting. The cinematography, the costumes, the production and art design, all work beautifully here and never feel artificial or forced. Gray’s approach to the story and material never comes across as melodramatic or overly sacharine either. That said, I wanted a little more emotion and potency to the movie’s climax and conclusion. There is still plenty to like and appreciate here and that includes the performances by the wonderful cast. In addition to great acting by Banks Repeta, the film also features fine work by Jeremy Strong, Anne Hathaway, Anthony Hopkins, Jaylin Webb, Ryan Sell, and Tovah Feldshuh.
Armageddon TIme is another remarkable offering from this year’s Austin Film Festival and is now available in theaters. I would solidly recommend this movie for a matinee theatrical viewing. Otherwise, I would wait until it is available for streaming.