Armageddon Time – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 54 minutes, Director – James Gray

Pre-teen Paul (Banks Repeta) finds himself thrown into tumbling familial and social worlds when moving to a new, ‘higher-thought-of’ school.

“Don’t make yourself objectionable for once” is the instruction/ advice provided by Jeremy Strong’s father to his son, Paul (Banks Repeta). It’s as part of one of a handful of heated family exchanges around the busy dinner table where it feels to Paul that he has little connection with anyone aside from his grandfather (Anthony Hopkins) who’s wisdom he could listen to all day. There’s a wonderfully observed tone and style to writer-director James Gray’s scenes between grandfather and grandson. A warmth which while present throughout other family scenes is especially felt in such moments between the two generations. Hopkins is especially excellent in this role where you feel his connection to Repeta’s pre-teen character, often boosted by the tone of the cinematography throughout the film.

There’s an element of calm between the pair as they almost find escape within each other from the rest of the world that they find themselves in. Entering sixth grade Paul finds himself crashing into the social tensions of the 1980s as the aspiring famous artist becomes friends with Johnny (Jaylin Webb), the only black kid in class. While the two find themselves getting into increasing trouble as they try to make the rest of the class laugh to getting caught smoking weed in school Paul discovers that it’s often Johnny who gets the more severe punishments.

It’s clear that this is certainly not a nostalgia-filled throwback to the 80s. There’s strong naturalism to the piece and the way in which the characters interact and talk to each other, especially Paul and his mother (a very good Anne Hathaway). While Gray may bring in a sense of wistfulness to the personally inspired feature there’s an openness to the personal angles which line the narrative-light course which invite you in. It invites you to join the dinner table and classrooms as you’re engaged in the warmth and fondness, even in the more intense and dramatic moments, of the familial figures on display.

Much of this is lined with a light yet effective score by Christopher Spelman often lying quietly in the background and yet certainly helping to lift a number of scenes. Particularly towards the final stages where, while there’s still plenty of engagement to be had as Paul truly discovers the extent of social inequalities in his time it’s around this point where things just begin to tip into feeling slightly lengthy.

Still echoing at this point is the feeling that this is a drama that may very well work for all ages. While the 15 rating is definitely justified it feels as if it’s a film that would work well for those in the same 11/12 age group as Paul (although, of course, the BBFC rating doesn’t permit) as it would for those in his grandfather’s and parents age groups. Each age group will bring something different to Armageddon Time and will likely take something different away from it.

Regardless of what that is there’s a warmth to the family scenarios within the film, particularly grandfather and grandson where much of the warmth and imaginative escape comes in. You can feel the personal touches without being overwhelmed by them to the point of things feeling closed off. There’s a lot to like and be engaged by throughout as there’s plenty to take to and from the film as a whole. It’s an interesting piece of work, led by a great ensemble cast, that while eventually a bit on the long side manages to fill itself with plenty of moments and ideas to work for the various generations depicted and perhaps attending.

Armageddon Time is perhaps a film made by what you bring to it, whatever that may be there’s plenty of warmth amongst the dramas within the family and social relationships and points throughout James Gray’s slightly lengthy personally open lookback.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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