Armageddon Time

****

Reviewed by: Richard Mowe

Armageddon Time
"The film is full of beautifully observed and detailed conversations as well as silences that speak volumes." | Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Returning to Cannes with one of his most personal forays director James Gray deserves to be in with a chance of one of those elusive prizes.

It is a touching and heartfelt evocation plucked from the director’s own childhood, growing up in the 1980s in his beloved Queens district of New York where family life was disruptive and yet somehow still loving.

It exudes emotional authenticity and boasts a cast of fine performances from the likes of Anne Hathaway as the frazzled mother trying to hold family and home together, Jeremy Strong as the husband struggling with his plumbing business and the relationship with his younger son, and Anthony Hopkins as the grandfather with English roots (based on Gray’s own grandfather).

Gray was a descendant of Jewish immigrants who came to the promised land from Eastern Europe.

Much of the focus rests on the director’s alter ego as the young Paul Graff (Banks Repeta) who is beginning to feel the pull of teen rebellion against his unimaginative teacher Mr Turkeltaub (Andrew Polk). The teacher makes no concessions for the youngster’s obvious artistic skills. The boy strikes up a friendship with a fellow outsider Johnny (Jaylin Webb) who has been held back for a year and lives with his infirm grandma on the wrong side of the tracks.

Paul finds most empathy and encouragement from his grandfather who feeds his fertile imagination and urges him to be “bold” before he has to go into hospital for what he describes as a short sojourn. He passes on the knowledge of the family’s roots and how Paul’s grandmother Mickey (Tovah Feldshuh), whose Ukrainian parents were murdered in front of her by Cossacks before. She made it through Poland to England and met her husband before they emigrated to the States.

It’s set against the era of Reagan coming into power with all the discrimination and culture wars swirling around in a prophetic spiral. Jessica Chastain has a telling cameo as Maryanne Trump (Donald’s sister) preaching to the school assembly about the importance of self preservation.

The two boys grow further apart when Paul is sent to a more prestigious and stricter school but they come together with a plan to finance an escape to Florida by stealing and selling off a school computer. It doesn’t work, of course, but the outcome shows the inequalities in their efforts to follow their dreams - Paul as a renown artist with an affinity to Kandinsky and Jonny as an astronaut at Nasa.

The film is full of beautifully observed and detailed conversations as well as silences that speak volumes. There is also pain in the father-son relationship as well as redemption. Gray handles it all with sensitivity and warmth, avoids any notes of jarring nostalgia and never puts a feeling out of place.

Reviewed on: 19 May 2022
Share this with others on...
Coming-of-age drama set against the backdrop of the Reagan era.

Festivals:

Cannes 2022

Search database: