Armageddon Time

Armageddon Time ★★★½

It’s 1980, morning in what’s not quite yet Reagan’s America: he’s still a candidate heard on TV prophesying that America is approaching its own moral moment of Armageddon, which—along with the Clash’s cover of “Armagideon Time”—is the pretext for the title. Gray’s gloomy takes on Greek tragedy, from Little Odessa up through We Own the Night, could all have had this title, their narratives devoted to plunging characters into endless downfalls. Armageddon Time, though, unexpectedly begins in a place of non-foreboding warmth and reminiscence; its opening sequences unfold Paul’s family life as peak Jewish family comedy, his public school days as essentially innocuous teachers-vs-kids hijinks. Paul’s parents are working-class and supportive, but it’s his grandpa Aaron who serves as a rock of delight and reassurance—a peak part for late-period Anthony Hopkins, who at this point just radiates basic decency. Paul already wants to be an artist, even if he’s not entirely sure what that means: after a class trip to the Guggenheim, he replicates a Kandinsky painting. Plagiarism as a precondition for artistic training is a venerable tradition; plagiarism of abstract art for a renowned classicist like Gray is, I guess, at least an acknowledgement of awareness of more radical forms that he’s consciously rejected, the rough film equivalent of Wilco booking particularly abstruse opening acts.

Cannes coverage.

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