Armageddon Time

Armageddon Time ★★★½

2022 Ranking 

James Gray challenges us and himself all in one go with what is a really sharp self-critique of privilege. I can certainly always admire a director who is willing to not lean into self-aggrandizement, and Gray has none of that, in fact he plays what is effectively his portrait as a youth in a pretty grating, spoiled, ineffectual manner. The journey we're taken on with affluent Jewish American kid Paul Graff (Banks Repeta) has moments of real hard-hitting effectiveness in his friendship with his African-American classmate Johnny (Jaylin Webb), and others I'm less fond of; likewise with the depiction of his family, from his overbearing but compassionate mother (Anne Hathaway), his strict and ambitious father (Jeremy Strong) and his delightful grandfather (Anthony Hopkins). This is definitely not what you might expect it to be, it is never cutesy, only a few moments of respite, largely just very unsparing in its approach though I would never say without heart.

The story's phases can feel a bit short-changed at points. I would love to have seen more of Johnny's life, for example, but with the scope Gray takes I see why he didn't, and the discussion as to whether or not he should've has me conflicted. Likewise feel some of the film's creative choices can be hit and miss. There's one sequence that calls back to Midnight Cowboy in its depiction of idealistic dreams quickly torn apart that works really well, and I did quite love the film's almost cynical use of needledrops. More mixed on some of the overall camera movements to almost get a sense of the child's perspective which worked sometimes, not always for me.

Performances-wise, it delivers. Loved Hathaway's work even when her story is sometimes pushed to the side, Repeta and Webb are strong, Strong has a bad scene he makes up for with some great final scenes, Hopkins felt a weird casting choice but ended up quietly winning me over. This is a meandering review of a film I'm still marinating over, so give me time to figure out, not so much whether I like it or not, but how I feel about whether it achieves what it sets out to do.

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