Despite all the warnings, you still believe the universe is fair. The end of childhood is when youngsters realise they’re not the centre of the universe and that the world doesn’t revolve around them. Of Armageddon Time, sixth-grader Paul Graff (Repeta) in Flushing, Queens, learns this from his middle-class, liberal, first-generation Jewish parents (Hathaway and Strong, both great).
Reagan used “armageddon” in 1980 to depict the inevitable political conclusion between the US and the “evil empire.” James Gray sees this as a turning point in the American ideal, from steady development to frenzied exploitation.
Gray has previously placed films in New York City boroughs, but this is the first with so many autobiographical elements. After his jungle (The Lost City of Z) and space (Armageddon Time) adventures, Gray’s best film is filled with intimacy and reality (Ad Astra).
Paul sees life’s unfairness as he and Johnny Davis (Webb), a Black youngster who has been held back in school and is the only child of colour in his class, are punished differently for their misbehaviors. Paul’s beloved grandfather (Hopkins) shapes his character, yet his advice is often inconsistent. As a European Jewish refugee, he sometimes suggests being a mensch and standing up for a friend, but other times he advocates surrendering your values to succeed. When he transfers to private school, Paul encounters polite antisemitism (modelled after Kew Forest, which the Trump children went and where Fred Trump sat on the board of directors). (Jessica Chastain plays Maryanne Trump, who lectures the children about working hard and not accepting charity.)
Armageddon Gray’s social order ideas aren’t always clear, but time’s great eye for the past makes up for it. The clothing, soundtrack, acting, and production design are all excellent. The video shows how family life and morality may shape an individual’s life despite their disarray.