“Armageddon Time is a well-crafted but disappointingly short-sighted drama from writer-director James Gray.”


  • Outstanding supporting performance by Anthony Hopkins

  • Great cinematography by Darius Konji

  • New York of the 1970s is recreated amazingly well on screen


  • A story that seems too isolated for its own good

  • Clichéd themes you’ve seen many times before

  • An exploration of racial politics that leaves much to be desired

Writer-director James Gray’s meticulously crafted new film has a lovely, grainy texture Armageddon time. Gray, with the help of cinematographer Darius Konji, created one of the most visually appealing films of the year. Its soft yellows and murky golds work in tandem with Happy Massee’s perfectly grimy, low-rent production design to create a version of late 1970s New York that’s both terrifying and endearing. Armageddon time is, in other words, made with the same, overflowing love shown in all of Grey’s films.

But below Armageddon timeUniquely transfixing veneer is inescapable emptiness. The story it tells is a story of privilege, and how coming to terms with your personal advantages is a basic, necessary part of growing up. It is an admirably difficult subject for any director to attempt to dramatize on screen, but Armageddon timeThe desire to be both a coming-of-age story and a scathing portrait of a specific moment in time leaves it feeling thematically confused. The resulting film is one that tries, unsuccessfully, to split the difference between offering a pat on the back and a shrug.

Banks Repetta and Jaylynn Webb laugh together in a bathroom stall in Armageddon Time.
Courtesy of Anne Joyce/Focus Features

Armageddon time begins its story in the classroom. It’s the first day of eighth grade, and within minutes, Paul Graff (Banks Repetta) is out of his mind and yelling at his fascist teacher, Mr. Turkeltaub (Andrew Polk), over a harmless silly drawing. Moments later, Paul is joined at the front of the classroom by Johnny (Jaylin Webb), the only black student in Paul’s class. It turns out that Johnny already has a long-standing feud with Turkeltaub, who uses Johnny’s troubles to display his own biases. without consequences.

Their shared love of trouble and hatred of their teacher creates a quick but strong bond between Johnny and Paul. Unfortunately, when a moment of naive, innocent rule-breaking lands both Paul and Johnny in deep, deep trouble, Paul’s parents, Esther (Anne Hathaway) and Irving (Jeremy Strong), decide to transfer him to the same private school funded from Trump his brother attended. Paul’s forced separation from Johnny sets off a chain of events that lead to dangerous consequences for one and a startling confrontation with the reality of American life for the other.

And that’s the problem with Armageddon time. Given the film’s stated themes, history, and setting, it shouldn’t be considered a spoiler to say that Webb’s Johnny ends up getting into much, much more trouble than Repetta’s Paul. The film’s depiction of how the American justice system routinely treats black men and boys is unfortunately extremely realistic, and this might not be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that Johnny’s fate essentially serves as nothing more than a way to remind Paul of his own privilege.

Banks Repetta and Anne Hathaway stand together in a kitchen in Armageddon Time.
Courtesy of Anne Joyce/Focus Features

Throughout the film, Johnny is given almost no interiority or personal life outside of his friendship with Paul. While Webb’s performance is quietly luminous and impressively layered, Johnny never gets the chance to ever become more than a vessel for the necessary lesson his white friend needs to learn. This is a major flaw that seriously undermines Armageddon timethemes and leaves the film feeling startlingly myopic.

The film’s abuse of Johnny might have been forgivable if Armageddon time was content to exist as nothing more than a snapshot of a time in American history that remains tragically familiar. Two of the film’s final scenes, however, attempt to bring life back to the protagonist’s rebellious spirit, first through a ghostly visit and then through a quiet and dignified walk home. The first scene invokes a “never stop fighting” perspective, which both directly contradict each other Armageddon timenihilistic tone and paints Repetta’s Paul as the kind of clichéd white ally archetype that has been prioritized over black characters in movies for decades.

Anthony Hopkins talks to Anne Hathaway in Armageddon Time.
Courtesy of Anne Joyce/Focus Features

None of this means that Armageddon time is without its merits. In addition to the cozy, gorgeous look of the film, it features a stunning supporting performance from Anthony Hopkins as Aaron Rabinowitz, Paul’s grandfather. Hopkins’ gentle, clear gaze as Aaron is stunning to watch, as it is for many Armageddon timehis best moments are those centered around him. One Night’s Bedside Talk, in particular, sees Hopkins deliver an impromptu monologue about the history of Paul’s Jewish family in such a devastatingly understated manner that it’s impossible not to get carried away by the actor’s performance.

This scene also delivers Armageddon time the chance to explore its themes of privilege and persecution without having to rely on the one-off, thinly sketched friendship of Paul and Johnny. It’s such a shame then Armageddon time ultimately chooses to make its points not by further exploring Paul’s own family, but by making blanket, one-sided statements about America’s racial politics that so many other films already have. The film therefore feels like a big step down for Gray, a director whose films are more often elevated by the kind of empathy and interest in introspection that are disappointingly absent from Armageddon time.

Armageddon time opens in select theaters on Friday, October 28. It expands nationwide on November 4.

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