Armageddon Time

Armageddon Time ★★★★½

2022 Ranked
Who Am I? Reckonings With The Generational Circle

I feel like I'm kind of flying solo on this one, but I really loved James Gray's work on Armageddon Time.

People always say that Gray's films are pretentious. I actually find them particularly humble. There's something about his style that is perfectly underplayed to me. There's always a sense of understatement, even in the grandiosity of his space epics and Amazonian quests. The stakes of the plot could not be higher, and yet he shoots his scenes with a sense of minimalism that beautifully counteracts the circumstances.

The final shots of this film say it all. I keep reading and hearing that the ending was especially underwhelming to people. It couldn't have been more perfect to me. With three simple zoom outs and tracking exit, he manages to thematically close out the entire film asking with his childhood. My girlfriend said to me afterwards, "I wanted more!" I could only respond, tears in my eyes, "It's just enough for me."

Armageddon Time is James Gray's memoir film, narrowing in on a pivotal moment of his adolescence when the tectonic plates of his life and the world around him began to shift. Schools changing, racism blooming, politics striking. Or instead, maybe it’s not so much that the world around is changing but that he himself is changing, and his maturation is finally allowing him to see himself and his world for what it truly is.

One aspect that really made Armageddon Time work for me is its total lack of sentimentality, particularly towards himself. It’s a pretty lacerating portrait of privilege and adolescent unawareness which helps the viewer stay critical without falling into traps of over-empathizing with our young white protagonist. Gray also makes sure to only tell his own story here. He isn’t pretending to know anything or anybody that he doesn’t. Gray could’ve easily dived into embellishing Johnny’s story for a more dramatic or cathartic arc about racism, but that wouldn’t have been honest. Instead, Gray plays it low-key and keeps his filmmaking to just what he knows.

The ensemble here is absolutely stellar. Anthony Hopkins, Jeremy Strong, and Anne Hathaway all knock it out of the park as Gray’s parental figures. Jaylin Webb also shines through in this breakout performance, providing equal amounts of levity and sorrow to Gray’s fleeting friend. The only actor who I didn’t love is Banks Repeta is our protagonist, and if it wasn’t for the fact that the character is meant to be so unlikable I don’t know if I could’ve locked into the film as much as I did.

A quiet winner for me.

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