Set in the 1980s in Flushing, Queens, we are introduced to Paul (Banks Repeta), who is in the 6th grade at a Public School. We see Paul’s classroom, his fellow peers and a teacher filled with frustration trying to get a well-focused classroom. Paul enjoys being somewhat disruptive and is consistently distracted as he wants to draw pictures on a notepad instead of focusing in class. We also understand that Paul isn’t the only one who enjoys causing moments of trouble, as Johnny (Jaylin Webb) also enjoys talking back to his teacher and being disruptive.
On the same day in school, Paul and Johnny are both punished by not being able to attend a sports class. Instead, they are forced to stay back in their classroom, allowing them to talk further. Soon, a new friendship is developed, and Paul begins to make new self-discoveries, including wanting to pursue a career as an artist. Paul lives with his parents, Esther (Anne Hathaway) and Irving (Jeremy Strong), and will often spend quality time with his grandfather Aaron (Anthony Hopkins). For Paul, the only rock in his life that ever brings him any form of peace is his grandfather. As time goes on, we see that achieving the ultimate American dream in the future will be challenging for Johnny and Paul.
Armageddon Time is a drama film Directed by James Gray. Thanks to Gray’s introduction at the start of the film, we learn this story is based on his various experiences growing up. As a result, this film feels somewhat like a memoir. There are many themes and topics throughout, including acceptance, pressure, racism, loss, politics and class structure. While both young Paul and Johnny show us these themes, we find out the most from Paul. Some examples include the knockback Paul receives when he proudly announces his dreams to his family, and his being looked poorly upon for attending a public school instead of a private school.
I truly admired the visuals of this film. The general look and feel of the 1980s is alive, and everything on the screen is highly convincing, including the musical scores we hear throughout. While the visuals are impressive, the biggest highlight is the performance of Anthony Hopkins. He is an immense delight and brings a stunning presence whenever his character appears. Actress Anne Hathaway delivers another fabulous yet somewhat familiar performance to the screen, and Jeremy Strong, granted, has gripping and unsettling moments. Jaylin Webb as Johnny is fantastic, and Banks Repeta as Paul is great for the vast majority.
It’s a bit hard to accept that either one of these leads looks or sounds like a grade-six boy, and the themes and topics don’t seem strongly enough presented to deliver a profound impact upon my first watch. Granted, a few moments impacted me deeply, including one scene involving a personal conversation between Paul and his grandfather at a local park. While I enjoyed the film, as the credits rolled, I just felt as though I had watched a story and was not emotionally impacted by the entire experience. It’s unlikely that I would ever wish to go back and relive the journey. I’m confident this film will touch the hearts and minds of some audiences, but the impact will vary from viewer to viewer. It just didn’t resonate as strongly with me, especially the final moments, which felt vague and open.
Overall, based on the personal experiences of Director James Gray, this film successfully tackles many themes and topics, including acceptance, pressure, racism, loss, politics, and class. The biggest standout here is Anthony Hopkins, who is genuinely an immense delight whenever he appears and speaks. Anne Hathaway is also great but brings something more familiar. Visually, viewers are transported back to a convincing period of the 1980s to witness the challenges of achieving the American dream. However, with so many themes packed into this feature, I’m saddened to say how little impact I felt upon my first watch. Granted, I’m confident many will have their hearts impacted, but this will generally vary among its viewers. I’m thankful for the experience and journey this film takes me on, but I wouldn’t be in a big hurry to revisit it.