Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Armageddon Time

James Gray: Armageddon Time (US/BR 2022). 

Midnight Sun Film Festival
DIRECTOR: James Gray
YEAR: 2022
DURATION: 114 min
LANGUAGES: English / no subtitles
CATEGORY: English dialogue, Gems of New Cinema
Festival premiere: 19 May 2022 Cannes Film Festival
US festival premiere: 2 Sep 2022 Telluride Film Festival
US premiere: 28 Oct 2022 (limited), 4 Nov 2022 (wide)
Viewed at Cinema Lapinsuu, Sodankylä, Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), 14 June 2023

Theme song: the Jamaican reggae song "Armagideon Time" (Willie Williams, 1977 / 1979) covered by The Clash in 1979.

Larry Gross (Telluride Film Festival, 2022): "Paul (Banks Repeta), a dreamy middle-class kid, has an urge to be an artist. His loving but conventional and insecure parents (Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong) don’t understand. As he wrestles with self-expression, Paul finds inspiration from Johnny (Jaylin Webb), a rebellious schoolmate, and his Jewish immigrant grandfather (Anthony Hopkins), who, since escaping Ukraine during World War II, has lived the best and the worst of the American Dream. Working again with the talented cinematographer Darius Khondji, writer-director James Gray (THE IMMIGRANT, AD ASTRA) builds an intimate cinematic world of moral turmoil and difficult decisions, of the rise of Ronald Reagan, the challenges of race relations and the confusion of class differences fueling the damaged soul of a nation. Gray has created a work of fierce but delicate beauty, in which coming of age means awakening to the painful realities of an imperfect world. –LG (U.S., 2022, 114m) In person: James Gray, Jeremy Strong, Anne Hathaway" Larry Gross (Telluride Film Festival, 2022)

Timo Malmi (MSFF 2023): "It is a relief to see an acting giant like Anthony Hopkins once again in a bullseye by a top director – even though James Gray hasn’t gained enough status in Finland to warrant a regular cinema run for this last year’s Cannes selection. This despite the fact that Hopkins’ performance as a wise grandfather is one of his most charming ones."

"The coming-of-age story of Armageddon Time is loosely based on Gray’s own experiences as a schoolboy in 1980 in Queens, New York (the stomping ground of a certain Trump family). We are in the beginning of Ronald Reagan’s expertly characterised presidential term. Paul, the preteen son of the middle-class Graff family with Ukrainian roots, befriends at school a black kid, Johnny, who needs shelter from his poor, broken home – not that the Graffs’ lives are always so amicable."

"Gray doesn’t take the easy nostalgic approach with his intimate depiction of the everyday life in the family, neighbourhood, and school. The colours and shades of Dariush Khondji’s wide angle cinematography seem perfect to melancholically follow this heart-breaking play of injustice."

"Not many American directors with an accomplished thirty-year career have been as overlooked in Finland as JAMES GRAY (b. 1969). That said, this descendant of Russian Jewish grandparents was also side-tracked in the US after his sensational debut film, Little Odessa (1994), directed at the age of 24. But such later works as the cop thriller We Own the Night (2007), obsessive romance Two Lovers (2008), explorer adventure The Lost City of Z (2017), and the sci-fi epic Ad Astra (2019) are more than enough proof of his significant, versatile talent.
" Timo Malmi (MSFF 2023)

AA: I arrived at Sodankylä in the morning, immediately caught in the magic of the midnight sun festival blessed by a beautiful sunny weather. Twice during the car ride from Rovaniemi to Sodankylä we met small reindeer herds (porotokka) who walked blithely in the middle of the road, without budging. We were the ones who had to budge. It was deeply moving to meet my landlady and her spouse, and after morning coffee at the premises it was time for the first film. It turned out to be a formidable kick start to what proved to be a "Black Lives Matter" theme day.

I missed the beginning, the first half of the festival's sole screening of Armageddon Time, a film that I had already missed in Telluride, but this is a film I must soon see in full. I arrived during the opening speech of Maryanne Trump (Jessica Chastain), Donald Trump's sister, and managed to see the final scenes with the protagonist's grandfather, Aaron Rabinowitz (Anthony Hopkins) who is in the ultimate stages of cancer. Aaron is a survivor of antisemitic persecution in his native Ukraine, and his final message to his grandson Paul is to be bold and defend his Black friend Jaylin against racist discrimination. "Be a mensch".

The account of the friendship of Paul and Jaylin provides a complex, honest and electrifying insight in ordinary racism. This intimate film's unique epic power derives from the heartfelt, disturbing juxtaposition of European antisemitism and the American oppression of Black people.


Armageddon Time is a 2022 American coming-of-age drama film written, directed, and produced by James Gray. The film stars Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, Banks Repeta, Jaylin Webb, and Anthony Hopkins. Inspired by Gray's childhood experiences, the story follows a young Jewish-American boy who befriends an African-American classmate and begins to struggle with expectations from his family and growing up in a time of inequality and prejudice. It was shot in New Jersey and in Fresh Meadows, Queens, New York where the director James Gray grew up with cinematographer Darius Khondji.

Armageddon Time had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival on May 19, 2022, and was released in the United States via a limited theatrical release on October 28, 2022, by Focus Features, before expanding wide on November 4, 2022. The film received positive reviews from critics, but failed at the box office, grossing over $6 million against a $15 million budget.


In 1980 Queens, New York City, on his first day in sixth grade, Jewish-American Paul Graff becomes friends with a rebellious African-American classmate named Johnny. Johnny was held back by a year and gets harsher treatment from their teacher when they both joke around in class. Paul often disassociates from his schoolwork and draws pictures instead.

Paul lives with his financially stable family of Jewish heritage. He is close with his maternal grandfather Aaron Rabinowitz, who encourages him to pursue his aspirations of becoming an artist. His well-meaning but strict parents, Esther and Irving, are less convinced by Paul's career prospects to be an artist. At night, Aaron tells Paul the story of how Aaron's mother escaped antisemitic persecution in Ukraine, fleeing to London before eventually immigrating to the United States with Aaron and her British husband.

One day, Paul and Johnny are caught smoking a joint in the restrooms, unaware that it's an illegal drug. Furious, Esther allows Irving to beat Paul as punishment. In the hope that he becomes more disciplined, Paul is sent to the Forest Manor Prep private school by his parents, where his older brother Ted is studying. Meanwhile, Johnny stops going to public school following Paul's expulsion.

Forest Manor is financially supported by famous businessman Fred Trump, who also supports Ronald Reagan in the upcoming US presidential election. Many of the students are also Reagan supporters. On Paul's first day, Fred's daughter Maryanne, one of the school's famous alumni, delivers a speech to the students about working to earn their success. Paul sees the school's advantages over his previous schooling but still doesn't feel welcome at the school. Paul is also unnerved by racist comments from other students when Johnny meets with him during playtime outdoors. Johnny also begins living in secret at Paul's clubhouse, having nowhere to go other than living with his sick grandmother, where foster system workers searching for Johnny have begun to visit regularly.

While playing at the park on the weekend, Paul tells Aaron of his struggles at school and how he does nothing when he witnesses racism from the other students. Aaron encourages Paul to stand up against prejudice when he sees it; reminding Paul that while antisemitism still covertly persists, he and his family still have the privilege of being white. Shortly after, Aaron dies of bone cancer, with the family mourning his loss.

Tired of living under high expectations from family and school, as well as the unfair treatment of Johnny, Paul convinces Johnny of his plan to steal a computer from school and sell it for money, so they can run away together. Although they successfully steal the computer, they are arrested by the police for trying to sell it. While being interrogated, Paul confesses that it was all his plan, to protect Johnny. However, knowing that he has no options in life, Johnny takes the blame to let Paul go, much to Paul's dismay. Paul and Johnny bid farewell, as Irving arrives to take him home with no consequences due to an officer being an old friend of Irving's. At home, Irving confesses to Paul that he is sympathetic to his frustration with America's unfair racial inequality, but tells him that they need to survive to have a good life. The two agree to not tell Esther what happened, as she is still mourning the loss of her father.

Days later, the Graff family are disappointed by Reagan's victory in the election, while Paul is focused on schoolwork. During a Thanksgiving dance at school, Fred Trump addresses the students, expressing hope that they'll become the next successful elite. A disillusioned Paul leaves the event during the speech.

Banks Repeta as Paul Graff
Anne Hathaway as Esther Graff, Paul's mother and Aaron's daughter
Jeremy Strong as Irving Graff, Paul's father
Jaylin Webb as Johnny Davis, Paul's African-American friend and public school classmate
Anthony Hopkins as Aaron Rabinowitz, Paul's grandfather
Tovah Feldshuh as Mickey Rabinowitz, Paul's grandmother and Aaron's wife
Ryan Sell as Ted Graff, Paul's older brother
John Diehl as Fred Trump, a famous businessman and financier of Forest Manor Prep private school
Jessica Chastain as Maryanne Trump, Fred's daughter
Andrew Polk as Mr. Turkeltaub, Paul and Johnny's public school teacher
Teddy Coluca as Uncle Louis, Paul's uncle
Marcia Haufrecht as Aunt Ruth, Paul's aunt
Dane West as Topper Lowell, Paul's friend at Forest Manor
Richard Bekins as Forest Manor Headmaster Fitzroy
Domenick Lombardozzi as Police Sergeant D’Arienzo
Marcia Jean Kurtz as Forest Manor Student Guide
Landon James Forlenza as Chad Eastman, Topper's friend
Eva Jette Putrello as Veronika Bronfman, a Forest Manor student
Jacob MacKinnon as Edgar Romanelli, a public school student

The title comes from a song by The Clash, titled "Armagideon Time", which is heard several times through the film.

Box office

The film grossed $1.9 million domestically and $4.7 million in international territories, cumulating in a worldwide total of $6.5 million. Sources such as Variety attributed this performance to poor marketing, a mixed audience reception and the general public losing interest in supporting prestige films in favor of MCU franchise/horror films in a moviegoing environment altered by the pandemic. James Gray responded, calling the film's financial performance a "failure" and warned that it was becoming a growing trend that films of this kind will continue to fail commercially as a result of this new audience behavior, but went on to say "you’re now in a situation where literally every single one of these [non-franchise] movies is not doing well, and in some ways, that’s the great equalizer ... But you also know as a film person that has absolutely no bearing on the long-term reaction to a film. I’m a film person, and I have no idea what the box office receipts were of, you know, A Clockwork Orange or something. So I try to divorce myself from that as well. Because I can’t do anything about it."

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