Armageddon Time is a 2022 American coming of age drama film written, directed, and produced by James Gray. The film stars Anthony Hopkins, Jeremy Strong, Anne Hathaway, Banks Repeta, and Jaylin Webb. Inspired by Gray’s childhood experiences, the story follows a young Jewish-American boy who befriends an African-American classmate and begins to struggle with expectations from his family growing up in a world of entitlement, inequality, and prejudice.
In 1980 Queens, New York City, on his first day of sixth grade, Jewish-American Paul Graff becomes friends with a rebellious African-American classmate named Johnny. Johnny was held back by a year and gets more severe treatment from their teacher when they both joke around in class. Paul often separates from his schoolwork and draws pictures instead.
Paul lives with his financially stable Jewish family. He is close with his maternal grandfather Aaron Rabinowitz, who encourages him to pursue his dream to become an artist. His good-hearted but strict parents, Esther and Irving, are less convinced by Paul’s career expectations to be an artist. At night, Aaron tells Paul of how Aaron’s mother escaped antisemitic persecution in Ukraine, fleeing to London before eventually immigrating to the United States with Aaron and her British husband.
One day, Paul and Johnny are caught smoking a joint in the restroom, unaware that it’s an illegal drug. Fuming, Esther forces Iving into beating Paul as punishment. In the hope that he becomes more disciplined, Paul is sent to his brother Ted’s private school, Forest Manor Prep, by his parents. Meanwhile, Johnny stops going to public school and following Paul’s expulsion.
Forest Manor is financially supported by famous businessman Fred Trump, who also supports Ronald Reagan in the impending US presidential election. Many of the students are also supporters of Reagan. On Paul’s first day, Fred’s daughter Maryanne, one of the school’s famous alumni, delivers a speech to the students about working to earn their success. Paul sees the school’s advantages over his previous schooling but doesn’t feel welcome at the school. Paul is also unaffected by racist comments from other students when Johnny meets him at recess. Johnny also begins living in secret in Paul’s clubhouse, having nowhere to go other than living with his sick grandmother, where foster system workers searching for Johnny have started to visit regularly.
While playing at the park on the weekend, Paul tells Aaron of his struggles at school and how he does nothing when he witnesses racism from the other students. Aaron encourages Paul to stand up against prejudice; reminding him that while antisemitism still exists, he and his family still have the privilege of being white. Tired of living under high expectations from family and school, as well as the unfair treatment of Johnny, Paul convinces Johnny of his plan to steal a computer from school and sell it for money so they can run away together.
This is a very serious movie, there is not one moment that is funny. There are many uncomfortable scenes, some involving racism, and one scene in particularly involves a child a being beat and whipped with a belt, which is extremely hard to watch. The acting is fantistic in this movie from the entire cast and the story is great, but this film is so slow and very depressing for the majority of its runtime. The only inspirational and truly caring and sweet character is Anthony Hopkins’s Aaron Rabinowitz, Paul’s grandfather. Paul’s parents are far too strict, controlling, uncaring at time, and at other times, abusive. Aaron seems to be the only one that truly knows what’s best for Paul and the only one that encourages him to follow his dreams. You pretty much hate Paul’s parents and his mean brother for 90 percent of the movie.
Johnny comes from a harsh upbringing, his mother dies and he is then raised by his grandmother, he gets held back in school, his grandmother gets sick and can no longer take care of him, so he must be put in foster care, but he tries to avoid it by skipping school and hiding away in Paul’s club house. Paul’s life isn’t perfect either with his super stern parents, his rebellious behavior, and a school he hates, he has nowhere or no one to turn to, except his grandfather, who he ends up losing. I truly believe if Paul’s parents actually listened to him and stopped trying to control him, he wouldn’t have gotten into so much trouble and he might actually have friends apart from Johnny. Also if people didn’t sterotype Johnny because he’s black, he likely could have had a better life, but racism was bad then and is still bad to this day.
This film is filled with racism, antisemitism, conservatism, and bad parenting, which doesn’t make the storyline bad, it just makes the movie hard to watch and/or listen to many times throughout. You see how tough Jews and African-Americans had it back then, and how conservative white Christian Republicans could be against them. Despite the slowness of this movie, it is still a powerful story and message. Had it not been so drawn-out and just plain depressing, it would have been more enjoyable. With Hathaway, Hopkins, and Strong as leads, you’d expect for the film to be outststanding, but it’s far from it. I thought Sir Anthony Hopkins could never do a sub-par film, but that is exactly what this one is.
Despite this being a nostalgia journey for the director, it struggles with issues of race. Johnny is either treated unfairly for being black or just overlooked altogether and nothing good happens to him. Paul can’t save him and Paul’s parents, nor his borther will help Johnny. The film does do a good job of letting you know that Paul avoids juvenile detention when you see his father driving him home from jail. It also does a good job of letting you know that Johnny has to face jail time without ever showing it.
Overall, there is far too much bigotry, juvenile delinquency, and sadness. There is very little happiness in this movie and the fantastic acting cannot make up for that. It is truly one of the gloomiest films featuring children I have ever seen. It’s not awful, but it’s definitely not great by any means. It had all the right things to make it an excellent watch, and the director did only semi-good witth such a tedious, heart-wrenching, yer somewhat moving motion picture. No, a movie doesn’t need a lot of action to be entertaining, but you still need to keep viewers engaged. I don’t understand how this film got a long standing ovation at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, but to each their own. Watch it or skip it? It’s all up to you, as I don’t love, nor do I hate this one. 18+ 3/5