James Gray’s ‘Armageddon Time’ weaves tale of two NYC kids, features stellar cast

Mimi Calzada, Senior Life & Arts Reporter

James Gray’s newest film “Armageddon Time” follows Paul Graff (Banks Repeta), a young boy in 1960s New York City who navigates a new school year and family conflicts. At the start of the film, Paul meets class clown Johnny Davis (Jaylin Webb), and the pair quickly develop a friendship. When the boys are caught smoking weed in the school bathroom, Paul’s mother Esther (Anne Hathaway), sends him to his older brother’s private school to continue his education. Paul’s grandfather Aaron (Anthony Hopkins), teaches his grandson important lessons on standing up for himself and others when facing adversity.

Enjoying an ensemble of acclaimed actors, including Jeremy Strong as Paul’s father Irving, this film suffers not from lack of stardom, but from a slightly confused premise. Over the course of the nearly 2-hour run time, Paul listens to Grandpa Aaron’s stories of how his mother fled from Nazis as a child, teaching Paul that he should stand up to kids directing racism at Johnny, who is Black. The lesson continues to increase in significance as Paul and Johnny find themselves in numerous entanglements with school authorities and even the law. The issue arises when Paul seemingly forgets his new morals. For example, when Irving picks up Paul from a police station, they end up leaving Johnny behind. These inconsistencies cause the film’s message of solidarity to fall flat.

Despite the film’s shortcomings, its strength lies in its cast. The two young leads, Banks Repeta (“The Devil All the Time”) and Jaylin Webb showcase great chemistry and play off of one another marvelously. The audience watches the characters connect over their common dream of leaving the city to pursue other goals — Paul dreams of becoming a famous painter and Johnny dreams of following in his cousin’s footsteps to become a Marine. Audiences will love the scenes that display the two exploring the city and conspiring on class pranks. 

The end of the film leaves something to be desired, as it concludes on a somewhat ambiguous note that results in the audience not knowing if Paul and Johnny will ever see each other again. Perhaps Gray intended to instill hope in the audience and communicate that the two friends will overcome all obstacles to achieve their dreams, but the script doesn’t clearly point to this interpretation or another. Many moments transpire in a similar fashion throughout the movie, such as a surface-level exploration of the Graff family dynamic, no exploration into Johnny’s family or upbringing and a bare-bones commentary on the historical and political contexts of the film. 

Despite “Armageddon Time” leaving the audience with some unanswered questions and wishing for closure, the award-winning cast members elevate the project, and the overall premise promises a heartwarming tale of found family and friendship.

3 aspiring painters out of 5