In Armageddon Time Michael Banks Repeta is Paul Graff, a young, 1980s precocious kid from a Jewish immigrant family. Friends with Jaylin Webb as Johnny, the two rail against the restrictions put on them. However, with each kick received it is always Johnny as a black kid who pays the higher price.
Caught between the sage advice of his Holocaust survivor grandfather (an ever-excellent Anthony Hopkins) and the explosive beatings of his repressed father as played by Jeremy Strong, Paul struggles to comprehend the social fault lines that punish Johnny and yet forever earn him an inexhaustible line of reprieves.
... feeling like a strange, unsatisfying excess of riches.
All of which, if anything leaves James Gray’s periodic drama feeling like a strange, unsatisfying excess of riches. On the overwhelmingly positive side are the performances. Jeremy Strong is all bottled rage as Paul’s handyman father and nobody delivers exposition conveyed as character-enriching insight like Anthony Hopkins. Also, Jaylin Webb’s performance as Johnny reminds me a lot of how Daniel Kaluuya so effectively channels injustice through a desperately optimistic, prism-like expression. Yet caught in this cascading cloud of mired ambitions is a really exceptional turn by Anne Hathaway. Shorn of her beauty and playing Esther, Paul’s mother, her life feels withered to the bone, in a chaotic family where few respect her or even hear her voice.
So whilst Armageddon Time fails as an ultimately compelling rite of passage movie, both the cast and an affecting Michael Banks Repeta as Paul are clearly trying their hardest. It’s just that in this tale of childhood dreams crushed under the wheels of Reaganite realities, the film itself feels slightly rigged as we focus so much on a white kid’s guilt whose skin affords him so many second chances. Maybe, that’s the point. Either way, Armageddon Time is certainly pointing in the right direction, it just doesn’t quite earn the right to use The Clash’s apocalyptic ‘Armagideon Time’ at its close.
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