Once again, a seasoned filmmaker revisits his childhood, recalling the historical and familial backdrop that molded him. This retrospective theme is not new – there have been instances like Truffaut’s Nobody Likes Me, Fellini’s Amarcord, Lucas’s American Graffiti, Spike Lee’s Crooklyn, Cameron Crowe’s On the Edge of Fame, and Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. In recent times, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, and Spielberg’s Fabelman have explored similar narratives.
Armageddon Time also falls into this category. After contending in Cannes festival’s main competition, it’s now available on SkyShowtime under the same title. The acclaimed, albeit somewhat overrated, director of The Night Belongs to Us, Ad Astra, and The Lost City of Z, transports viewers to the fall of 1980. Set in New York amidst a Jewish family backdrop, the narrative unfolds through the eyes of twelve-year-old Paul, portrayed convincingly by Banks Repeta. An artistically inclined boy, Paul challenges boundaries with mischief, often vexing his parents (Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong). However, he reveres his grandfather (Anthony Hopkins), a man teaching him to respect everyone regardless of ethnicity.
The story touches on themes of friendship, societal class differences, and prejudice. However, the film takes a significant turn when Paul transfers to a private school, partly funded by the Trump family. Here, we’re introduced to Donald Trump’s sister, Maryanne (Jessica Chastain), who emphasizes the importance of individual hard work. Given the setting – right before Ronald Reagan’s presidential victory and his Armageddon statement – the film’s title finds its relevance. Capturing the era’s essence, cinematographer Dario Khondji used 70s lenses for a vintage touch, complemented by a period soundtrack featuring The Clash’s ArmageddonTime.
Yet, Gray’s Armageddon Time feels like a series of routine family stories, failing to leave an indelible mark as Belfast, Fabelmans, or Licorice Pizza did. The film centers around nepotism, societal mobility, and the unequal start lines different demographics face. As Paul and Johnny’s story crescendos, it delivers a predictable message – appreciate what you have. Though Gray commendably steers clear of excessive nostalgia and introduces a timely social angle, the film’s stoic presentation lacks the emotional punch required to resonate with audiences. This sentiment reflects in its overseas box office collections, which didn’t even recoup half its modest budget. Despite its stellar cast, Gray misses the mark in crafting a film that could truly transform its intriguing premise into an unforgettable cinematic experience.
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