Film: Armageddon Time
Matt at the Movies Score: 6.0
Spill the tea: This semi-biographical coming of age story from director James Gray (Lost City of Z, Ad Astra, We Own the Night) is set in 1980 Queens, New York. The generational drama portrays a middle-class Jewish family as they navigate the coming Reagan era. Social mobility, pursuit of the “American Dream,” and the ever present fear of nuclear destruction provide the backdrop for the Graff family as the precocious Paul (Banks Repeta) enters middle school.
As a teacher, I’ve seen many Pauls and his new troubled class clown acquaintance Johnny come through my classroom. Traditional school settings and family life at home don’t provide much support for them to succeed. Johnny has a clear grasp of the reality of the world around him, so he feels he’s set up to fail. Paul is naïve despite feeling pressure to succeed from his family and prejudice due to his background. In return, he lashes out at his mother Esther (played wonderfully by Oscar winner Anne Hathaway) and father Irving (HBO’s Succession’s Jeremy Strong).
No one can seem to get through to Paul about his place in the world other than his grandfather Aaron (Anthony Hopkins). Paul’s choice of the “wrong” friends, his love of art over school, and his natural awkwardness left him alone. Paul and Aaron’s relationship shows a tenderness and connection that breaks through the bleakness of Paul’s world. Aaron seems to be the only one who knows what Paul is going through and how to reach him. He also provides Paul with life lessons he gained growing up as an immigrant Jew in an anti-Semitic world.
This emotional backbone to the story is the saving grace for an otherwise depressing story. When Paul leaves public school for a prep school where students suffer through multiple motivational speeches by Fred Trump (yes that one), he must decide what type of person he wants to be. Aaron reminds Paul to “never forget the past because you never know when they may come looking for you”.
Star of the show: The real scene-stealer as always is two-time Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins. He is the saving grace of the entire film. Acting with love and humility, he was able to give a middling character like Paul emotional depth. Yet again, he is deserving of a Best Supporting Actor nomination.
Don’t sleep on: The music fits the era with great selections from The Clash and The Sugarhill Gang.
Best ten-minute stretch: Fresh at his new school, Paul hears his well-off peers making racist comments about his friend Johnny. When he and Grandpa sit on a park bench and talk about the incident, Hopkins' character explains how the social stratification of the world works and that life isn’t fair to everyone. He also instills in Paul to be his own man and stand up for what he believes in. It’s a very powerful moment.
Coulda used a little more… time spent with Paul’s parents. When you have two powerhouse actors like Hathaway and Strong, it’s a crime there’s not more for them to do.
Matt at the Movies Score: Wait to stream - 6.0/10 (though Hopkins should be nominated!)