#CANNES22: “ARMAGEDDON TIME” REVIEW
Review by Amanda Gilmore for Mr. Will Wong
Writer-Director James Gray’s latest is a semi-autobiographical story of a boy coming-of-age in New York during the ’80s. It follows Paul Graff (Banks Repeta) a sixth-grader in the early stages of rebellion who aspires to be an Artist. He befriends Johnny (Jaylin Webb), a black student who is constantly and unfairly being targeted by their teacher. When the two find themselves in trouble, Paul’s parents (Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong) refuse to let him see Johnny and subsequently move him to Private School. But will that be enough to separate their friendship?
Considering this is Gray’s most personal story, it doesn’t become self-important. Instead, he uses his childhood to touch on themes of racism and classism set against the rise of the Reagan era. Gray highlights inequity and Racism in institutions by showing how the public school Paul and Johnny attend mistreat Johnny. When Paul is the one doing something wrong, their teacher blames Johnny. Webb gives a powerful performance as a child who sadly understands that the world is stacked against him.
The Racism and Classism are further highlighted when Paul is sent to Private School. The family who funds the school is the Trump family, they even have Maryanne Trump (a delightful cameo from Jessica Chastain) come in to speak to them at an assembly. The students at the school use racial slurs and no one bats an eye. It’s a world that displaces Paul sending him on his coming-of-age journey. He needs to decide the type of person he wants to be: one who looks away or helps make a change. This is truly a star-making role for Repeta. He carries the weight of the Film on his small shoulders with ease.
Gray doesn’t back away from the darker sides in the depiction of his family. Paul’s family doesn’t believe they are part of the problem. However, they are because they don’t actively help and they believe the picture society has painted of minority groups. The only one who wants equality is his Grandpa Aaron (Anthony Hopkins). His closest relationship is with his Grandpa and the strong bond between Hopkins and Repeta makes for tender, teary-eyed moments.
Furthermore, Gray shows the darker side of his childhood. Moments where he gave his mother, Esther (Hathaway), a very hard time. Hathaway is brilliant as a mother who only wants the best for her child and will do anything to stand up for him. His most turbulent relationship is with his father Irving (Strong). One scene has a short-fused Irving beating Paul with a belt. However, there are tender moments where we see Irving change. It’s a difficult role that Strong truly excels in.
Paul is at the time in his life when friends become family. Maybe even more so for him because of his turbulent home life. Gray also doesn’t pull punches with the depiction of himself. Johnny is Paul’s best friend, however, when he goes to a new school he pushes Johnny away because of the other students. When Johnny asks him for a place to stay, he is reluctant because of how his family has spoken about him. Gray shows the faults in his actions, he owns up to them. And in return, we get to see how this young boy learned that he should and could do better.
Armageddon Time is a story about a boy whose family wants him to conform to the American Dream, but all he wants to do is rebel against that and forge his own path. Additionally, it’s a reminder how Racism is learned and institutionalized. However, it only takes one person to break that cycle.
Armageddon Time screens at Cannes ’22:
Thu, May 19 at 7 PM at GRAND THÉÂTRE LUMIÈRE
Fri, May 20 at 9 AM at GRAND THÉÂTRE LUMIÈRE
Fri, May 20 at 7:30 PM at SALLE AGNÈS VARDA
Sat, May 21 at 1:30 PM at CINEUM IMAX
Sun, May 22 at 9:30 AM at CINEUM AURORE
Thu, May 26 at 1 PM at ARCADES 1
Some snaps from the ARMAGEDDON TIME Press Conference with Strong, Hathaway, Gray and Repeta:
(Photo credit: Amanda Gilmore/Mr. Will Wong)