Armageddon Time

Armageddon Time ★★★

Not the worst movie I've seen at this year's New York Film Festival, but definitely my biggest disappointment. Had super high hopes for James Gray's newest film, but his autobiographical coming of age story largely fell flat for me. The personal nature of the story cuts deep, but the plot rather listlessly moves along, building up to climatic moments that feel less like an emotional arrival and more like ticking off the boxes on other films about filmmakers growing up.

The "been there, done that" feeling extends to most of the cast, too. Jeremy Strong is overacting with a distracting hairpiece, and Anthony Hopkins is always a welcome presence, but he doesn't do much here besides be Anthony Hopkins. One actor who rises above the material, however, was Anne Hathaway. She brought a wonderful subtlety as a mother constantly trying to reconcile the reality of her life. In addition, Gray draws good performances from his child actors, Banks Repeta and Jaylin Webb.

What makes things a bit more interesting is that young Paul (our fictionalized James Gray stand-in) is not a precocious genius, nor is he a particularly good person. He's only in sixth grade, so his underdeveloped moral compass leads to real consequences for the people around him. His timidity is a condition of his family's assimilation — Jewishness into whiteness.

(There's been some pushback on the racial optics that I don't quite agree with. It's supposed to be uncomfortable, and it's not presented as a "teachable moment" for the youngster. I'm on the side of Bilge Ebiri, who sees the story's limits as self-awareness.)

Gray's never been known for having a flashy visual style, but many of his movies are well shot nonetheless. Armageddon Time has some of the worst cinematography I've seen this year, which is a surprise since Darius Khondji has done some great work, even with Gray. It's the first time James Gray has had a movie shot digitally, and he ought to go back to shooting film on his next go around!

NYFF 2022 #11 - Q&A with writer/director James Gray and actors Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, Banks Repeta, and Jaylin Webb. Despite this movie being a misfire, Gray remains the one filmmaker who guarantees an entertaining talkback. He's hilarious and his vocal impressions are killer.

One good thing about the movie is a James Gray press tour, he's one of most well-spoken directors working today. (and here's another interview that's less about the movie but about the state of movie-making.)

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