The place is Queens, New York, and the time is the early 1980s. A newly elected Ronald Reagan spouts rhetoric of American exceptionalism in the nation’s news media, his messaging occasionally broken up on the radio by the Sugarhill Gang’s seminal hip-hop hit “Rapper’s Delight.” The cultural outlay of the city is changing, as upwardly mobile Jews move into tonier neighborhoods while redistricted families of color get pushed out of their homes. There’s a charge in the air.
The first trailer for James Gray‘s superb new film Armageddon Time arrived online this morning to set the scene for a coming-of-age film very much rooted in its time and place. The filmmaker looks back to his own childhood experiences, remembered with an intimate specificity that entailed the full reconstruction of his parents’ house, for a drama the melds the personal with the political as a child gets caught up in the currents of a shifting nation.
Paul Graff (wunderkind discovery Banks Repeta) is anxious about transferring from his public school to a WASP-ish private academy, and the prospect of leaving behind his buddy John (Jaylin Webb). Pressures from his mom (Anne Hathaway) and Dad (Jeremy Strong) don’t help, though the firm, patient understanding of his Holocaust refugee grandfather (Anthony Hopkins) always seems to make the difficult questions of prejudice and responsibility easier to answer.
Our own Hannah Strong found the film well-observed in her first-look review from the Cannes Film Festival premiere, appreciating the delicacy with which Gray handles a subject that can easily veer into self-pity or self-absolution: “…filmmakers have been making art about their own white guilt for decades and the merits of this are few, but the mistakes we make as children have the power to echo through our lives, and we have to live with them, for better or worse. Armageddon Time understands the past is a foreign country, and not one you can live in forever.”
As Paul asks himself what sort of man he might like to be, he’ll cross paths with none other than Fred and Mary Anne Trump, avatars of a rising tide in conservatism that foretells a grim future for his generation. As planted as this film may be in its setting, much of the conversation surrounding it will surely reveal its relevance to our present, the issues it poses having only grown more pronounced in the years since.
Armageddon Time comes to cinemas in the US on 11 November, and then the UK on 18 November.
Published 6 Sep 2022
By Matt Thrift
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