After its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May, Focus Features’ “Armageddon Time” hit theaters nationwide on October 28. The coming-of-age drama has launched itself into the awards discussion with a star-studded cast and a freshness rating of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. After being transferred to a private school, a young Jewish boy named Paul (played by breakout star Banks Repeta) deals with prejudice and the challenges of growing up in 1980 New York.
The cast includes Oscar winners Anne Hathaway and Sir Anthony Hopkins, Emmy winner Jeremy Strong, and cameo from Jessica Chastain as Maryanne Trump. The film was written and directed by James Gray, inspired by his upbringing in Queens. So what do the critics have to say?
Joshua Rothkopf of Entertainment Weekly writes, “Gray is after something rarer — a tone that, apart from his recent trips to the Amazon jungle (2016’s ‘The Lost City of Z’) and deep space (2019’s ‘Ad Astra’), he summons with career-long authority: the tough desperation of middle-class Jewish families intent on preserving their limited momentum in a still-threatening America.” Hopkins and Strong are highlighted as being especially noteworthy. “A nuanced exploration of situational ethics tinged with guilt, it’s a small, near-perfect New York story. And while its director may not say as much out loud, it’s also an act of atonement.”
Keith Uhlich of Slant Magazine states, “the film has the wispy and delicate feel of memory, though its dexterous narrative architecture provides a sturdy framework atop which Gray’s masterfully conjured remembrances can freely drift…All three adult actors are excellent, though there’s something distracting at first about the figureheads of Paul’s family being played by such recognizable faces. As the film goes on, that feeling recedes, for what child, given the opportunity, wouldn’t conceive of those closest to them as movie stars? It also adds some productive tension between the film’s two thematic extremes—a nostalgic idealization of the past and a more sober scrutinizing of it.”
Owen Gleiberman of Variety notes the personal nature of the film and calls it “a skillful, exacting, beguiling movie…Set largely among kids, and also in the home of Paul’s scruffy and combative Jewish family, the movie is bustling, personable, anecdotal — and also something that Gray hardly ever is, which is funny.” The cast is praised with Hathaway being described as “affectionate and blinkered,” and “Strong is meticulous in how he plays the father as a charmless noodge with those pockets of rage, yet if you look hard enough you can see his love there too. Anthony Hopkins, as Paul’s grandfather, brings the film a note of crusty benevolence, though I couldn’t watch his performance without thinking: Why does an actor as great as Hopkins play this aging mensch with the same Welsh purr you’d expect to hear from him on a talk show?” This 1980s trip to yesteryear also functions as “an old-school liberal message movie — it’s all about how Paul and Johnny (Jaylin Webb) get into trouble, but Johnny is the one who gets thrown under the bus, and we’re supposed to feel bad about that.”
Rachel Wagner of rachelsreviews.net singles out Sir Anthony Hopkins off the bat. “The cast is very strong with Anthony Hopkins probably earning his next Oscar nomination for his supporting work as the Grandfather who fled Nazi Germany after his parents were murdered in front of him.” Given his last win was not that long ago, Hopkins is also fresh on voters’ minds. “With a title like ‘Armageddon Time’ you’d think the movie would be more exciting but it’s really a by-the-numbers coming of age story. Nothing new here but it’s not bad. If you are fan of this genre than you’ll enjoy it.”
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