ARMAGEEDDON TIME (2022) l Focus Features | November 4, 2022
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Jeremy Strong, Anne Hathaway, Banks Repeta, Jaylin Webb
Director: 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.
REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus
Armageddon Time features some truly magnificent performances from the entire cast, that makes for a rewarding watch even if the story is a little directionless at times.
Coming of age stories seem to be all the rage now, with many big filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Kenneth Branagh revisiting their childhoods with The Fabelmans and Belfast. And the latest to reflect on their childhood is writer-director James Gray, taking audiences back to his childhood upbringing in Queens, New York during the 1980s. The film follows a young American Jewish boy, Paul Graff, as he navigates his school and family life. It chronicles a new friendship with his African American classmate Johnny, as well as his relationship with his grandfather who is the one member of the family who truly understands Paul.
Gray’s writing captures the innocence of childhood, as Paul is living blissfully in his own world. Over the course of the film, Gray weaves in encounters with prejudice that opens this young man’s mind to how people actually act in the world. Whether it be the anti-Semitic prejudice he personally experiences, or the racism that he witnesses Johnny experience, it’s an earnest portrayal of such events through someone previously unaware to them and unable to capture the trule malice behind such comments. The whole story is told with love as Paul’s parents instill good morals into both of their boys, trying to raise them properly while also setting them up for future success in life that they weren’t afforded. These themes ring loud and clear throughout the film, and create a truly enjoyable portrayal of growing up, but at the same time the story jumps around between them. While changing between these themes, the story loses grasp of a centered vision to unite the various ideas together and show the profound effect they have on Paul and how they will turn him into a young man. It’s hinted at many times in the film, but more was needed to drive home the growing up aspect of the story, as it feels like Paul has not grown over the course of the film.
Knowing the material he is working with, Gray has amassed a truly incredible cast of actors including Anthony Hopkins, Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, and Jessica Chastain to create the film’s ensemble cast. Banks Repeta and Jaylin Webb are both delightful as Paul and Johnny respectively, capturing that childhood wonder of making plans and trying to live life to the fullest, while also grappling with the real world issues that their characters face with grace. But, it is the supporting cast that steals the film.
There is no denying that the best performance of the film comes from Hopkins as Paul’s grandfather, who gives what is easily one of the most touching performances of his career. Hopkins is no stranger to incredible performances, between The Silence of the Lambs and The Father, but he is the beating heart of the film. He brings a warmth and wisdom to the film as he imparts important life lessons on Paul, while trying to inspire and encourage Paul’s dreams despite his parents pushing for Paul to have more practical aspirations. It’s another formidable performance from one of the most revered actors in the industry, one that is guaranteed to tug on your heart strings and that is certain to have legs this awards season.
Strong is great as Paul’s father, bringing a commanding presence to the story as he tries to but fails to connect with his son. There are outbursts of anger where Strong is truly startling, but he also finds a vulnerability to his character as he knows he is failing to connect with his son and worries about what the future holds for his son. Chastain has a small role as Maryanne Trump, making every second of screen time count as she imparts words of wisdom onto both the young children and the audience, though she is quickly forgotten as she only has the one scene.
And of course Hathaway is a true delight as Paul’s mother. She brings a true naturing warmth to the film as she encourages Paul, while also having a tough as nails side to her as she tries to keep her rambunctious young boys in line. But, it is when her character is dealing with the more emotional aspects of the story where Hathaway tears your heart out, showcasing why she is such a phenomenal actress. While the story wanders at times, it is these incredible performances that capture the audience’s attention and hold it for the entire run time. There is no denying that there is a charm to this coming of age story, even if it is scattered at times, but the star power and wonderful performances of Anthony Hopkins, Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong make Armageddon Time worthy of a watch.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5