James Gray is the prolific New York film director who established himself thanks to the masterpiece that is Two Lovers, the one with Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow, a sick, sorrowful love story that takes place within the environment of a family of Jewish origin.
Armageddon Time comes after The Lost City of Z and Ad Astra, and is opposed to both, largely for being a project contrary to these two titanic works. For Gray, perhaps, this is one of his most personal projects, addressing a coming of age in the 80s, the Reagan era. A small story and again built around the core of a Jewish family set in Queens. The film is semi-autobiographical, since Gray not only lived in Queens in his childhood but always had the desire to be a painter, and this is captured by the film’s main character, Paul (Banks Repeta).
This is not the first time Gray tackles a father-son story, which he also consummated in films like Two Lovers, The Yards, We Own The Night and Ad Astra, that is, almost in his whole filmography, with the difference of having turned much more intimate. Anthony Hopkins’ participation as the maternal grandfather, the last word and the reason why little Paul, in a certain way, obeys his parents in the face of repeated blunders, also bears a lot of weight.
Paul attends a school where he forges a relationship with a black boy, Johnny (Jaylin Webb is another acting revelation), both are segregated by a teacher, one for his artistic talent and the other for racial prejudice, which results in sanctions and appointments with the headmaster of the establishment. Faced with the fact that they were found in a bathroom stall smoking marijuana, the family decides that Paul will be sent to an “elite” school. Eventhough the idea is to align him with a Jewish society of leaders, there is fierce criticism of the Trump dynasty. Paul realizes that discrimination also lies in Jewish sectors towards the African-American community at different levels. His classmates at the new school convince him not to talk to Johnny.
The film deals with other themes such as social levels within the same family, especially in the roles of parents. In fact, Paul’s father (Jeremy Strong) is a plumber, a profession which is not accepted by Anne Hathaway’s family, except for her father (Hopkins). The differences between Paul’s parents, a consolidated but unhappy family, are stark. The best scenes in the film are those of the family dinners; there generational differences are raised, discussions about implicit racism (even among those discriminated against) and Hopkins’ sobering contributions, who with his interpretation is one of the best assets that the film has to offer.
Facing the Reaganean wartime and the mention of every child or at least one of these two ending up in NASA one of the most beautiful scenes takes place; that of grandfather-grandson that involves a gunpowder rocket and letting go. One of the most emotional scenes that Gray achieved in his entire career.
(United States, Brasil, 2022)
Script, direction: James Gray. Cast: Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Anthony Hopkins, Jeremy Strong. Production: Marc Butan, James Gray, Anthony Katagas, Rodrigo Teixeira, Alan Terpins. Lenght: 115 minutes.