Having sent Brad Pitt into outer space for the 2019 film Ad Astra, the biggest hit of his career, screenwriter and director James Gray returns to earth to shoot the most personal film he has ever made. “Armageddon Time” is a coming—of-age saga set in 1980 in Queens, New York. In it, Gray became the last director who delved into his childhood in search of inspiration after Kenneth Brana (Belfast), Alfonso Cuaron (Roma) and Paolo Sorrentino (Roma). The Hand of God).
Gray’s deputy is Paul (Banks Repeta), the youngest of two sons in a family of working Graffs. His father Irving (Jeremy Strong from The Heirs) is a plumber who has a damn hot temper, he beat Paul to a whimper when he was caught smoking marijuana at school. His mother Esther (Anne Hathaway) is more sophisticated, she heads the parent committee at Paul’s school. At least until Paul’s carelessness with weed.
Paul’s closest family member is his grandfather (Anthony Hopkins), who takes him to the park to launch toy rockets into the air, buys him gifts and encourages his desire to become an artist. Despite all his inappropriate behavior, contrary to authority, Paul is sensitive and absorbs the influences surrounding him. He visits the Guggenheim on
Paul is also friends with Johnny (Jaylene Webb), who inadvertently teaches him how deeply unfair life can be. Johnny from a poor local Black family lives with his sick grandmother. A good child at heart, but reaching for trouble like a magnet, he is also painfully aware that his hand has fallen out. He’d better give up these dreams of working at NASA, as one older black teenager he met on the subway told him—a moment that is very depressing.
Although the focus is on Paul’s immediate environment, the film does not ignore the world around it. Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign—much to Irving’s annoyance—is playing out in the background. The title is a reference to Reagan’s cable TV commentary where he said: “Perhaps we are the generation that will see Armageddon.” It was his administration that ushered in the coldest era of the Cold War, when the threat of nuclear war seemed great. The film also captures the tipping point just before Reagan introduces his hotly debated “Reaganomics,” a policy that some claim has significantly increased wealth inequality. Paul’s school is attended by Maryann Trump, the sister of you—know-who. Performed by Jessica Chastain (in a slightly strange, repulsive cameo) she tells the assembled students that they are the future elite. This is an alarming slogan of the Republicans, while the lyrics of The Clash’s song “Armagideon Time”, a cover version of reggae recorded in 1979, even comes to mind: “Many people today will not achieve justice.”
Superbly organized by Gray, the acting ensemble is excellent — although if you had to choose an outstanding one, it would be Hopkins in the role of a kind but principled grandfather. He casts a huge shadow on the film, a moral compass that everyone should follow. While Hopkins was rightly awarded an Oscar for his portrayal of dementia in the Father, this turn of a man reaching his own time of Armageddon is no less touching.