To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, Armageddon Time is a period drama film written, directed, and produced by James Gray (Ad Astra). Featuring Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, Banks Repeta, Jaylin Webb, and Anthony Hopkins, the film is inspired by Gray’s upbringing in Queens, New York, during the ’80s. The story follows Paul Graff, an artistic yet disobedient Jewish boy who is sent to a private school after repeatedly getting into trouble with his friend Johnny in public school.
On the first day of school at P.S. 173, Mr. Turkeltaub (Andrew Polk) tells his students that as 6th graders they are expected to be leaders. As he takes attendance he notices some of the kids passing around a picture of him as a bird. He threatens to take away recess unless someone fesses up to the drawing. Eventually, Paul Graff (Banks Repeta) takes responsibility and is made to stand in front of the class. After another kid, Johnny (Jaylin Webb) becomes disruptive he is required to stand with Paul and clean the chalkboards.
While the rest of the students depart for recess Paul and Johnny are told to stay inside. They bond over their mutual hatred of Mr. Turkeltaub and disco while also talking about the music they find enjoyable. Johnny is a fan of Kurtis Blow and Paul is a fan of The Beatles. Paul asks Johnny if he’s going on the upcoming field trip to the museum to which he says he can’t afford it. Paul offers to pay Johnny‘s way and states that his family is rich having vacationed in Europe the previous year. The two form a quick friendship and agree to hang out after school.
James Gray is a decent writer and director. He’s been in the business for over 30 years and has put out some good projects. His pictures usually have a somber tone while his directing style tends to put a lot of focus on the actor’s ability to emote and his casts are usually stacked with incredibly talented actors that can easily pull it off. Sadly, his pictures are never box office draws with them rarely making back their budget or winning an award. As a studio, this would make me hesitate on giving him a big budget picture. This seems to be the case as Armageddon Time only has a reported budget of $15 million. Yet, something still doesn’t connect with this film.
The acting is pretty good. Jeremy Strong and Anthony Hopkins are great as Irving Graff, Paul’s father, and Aaron Rabinowitz, Paul’s grandfather. Aaron is almost like the angel on Paul’s shoulder. He always gives him good advice and encourages him to follow his dreams. He also tells him that his education is important and that he should not squander his position in life. Irving is the typical father figure. Usually quiet, but quick to anger when his children are being disrespectful. There is a scene where Irving talks to Paul and his brother Ted about how people used to look down on him because his father was a plumber. When he started talking to their mom, Aaron was welcoming and treated him as an equal. Irving says it’s up to him to keep the family together and doesn’t know if he can live up to Aaron’s legacy.
The real problem with this film is the story. It doesn’t know what it wants to be and never figures it out before the credits run. The trailers would lead you to believe it’s a story about a grandfather teaching his grandson to stand up in the face of bigotry, but that’s not the case. There is a little bit of that in there, along with covert and overt racism in the school system, interracial friendships, and making the most out of your opportunities. The character of Johnny gets the most disservice to the point where he is almost a caricature of inner-city Black youth. We never truly get to find out more about his home life other than that he lives with his grandma. There are many times when Paul could tell an adult to help him but doesn’t.
The story is supposed to be based on Gray’s childhood and if that’s even remotely true then Gray was a terrible kid. Paul is disrespectful, steals from his parents, misbehaves in school, and is rude to boot. The only people he is genuinely nice to are his grandfather and Johnny. His parents are somewhat to blame as they let him get away with everything. The one time when Irving has to discipline Paul actually brought a smile to my face and I wish he received more than what he got. Then there is the ending in which we never see Paul learn his lesson. Instead of just cutting the film off there it would have been nice to see what Paul ended up doing with his life knowing his actions probably sent his friend to prison.
While the acting is good, the story is weak and unimaginative. I give Armageddon Time a Solid 5/10. There are too many storylines going on which makes the final product feel unfocused. This film probably should have been a streaming exclusive as I cannot see it performing well even with its stacked cast.