REVIEW: ‘Armageddon Time’ is moving, but storytelling has troubles

Despite what the title implies, this is not a Roland Emmerich disaster movie.

Instead, it’s a coming of age drama focused on the life and times of middle schooler Paul Graff (Banks Repeta) over the course of the 1980 Presidential Election. Paul, whose story was inspired by director James Gray’s own childhood, attends public school in New York City, which his parents aren’t entirely sold on.

His brother already attends a private school and, with financial support from his grandparents, Paul’s mom (Anne Hathaway) and dad (Jeremy Strong) think he should do the same. This is eventually set in motion when Paul and his black friend Johnny (Jaylin Webb) get in trouble at school.

The immense shift in American politics coinciding with the tumultuous changes in Paul’s own life over the course of this picture does manage to capture a viewer’s attention. What ends up unfolding manages to hold that attention for the rest of the movie, too.

The film works as a coming of age story, capturing the complexities of youth, while also noting the changing culture and societal issues existing during that time. It also showcases how the situations of that time led to where we are today.

It’s also interesting in how it shows the changes over time generationally. The Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers and Generation X are all represented in “Armageddon Time.” Gray gives insight into how each generation came to be, and where they were headed.

Courtesy Focus Features.

Yet the film can’t manage to shake a prevailing looseness with its story. Coming of age films very often have a slice of life vibe so the plots can be a bit less structured. However, “Armageddon Time” seems to push this too far.

The film has plenty of engaging and meaningful moments, but the individual parts don’t come together in a way to make a satisfying whole. There are times where the picture meanders and comes across as aimless.

“Armageddon Time” is also a movie that seems incomplete in certain areas. Some of the relationships and character arcs are left hanging when the credits roll, leaving a viewer to feel like there are a few loose ends. Movie’s don’t need to always tie things up in a neat bow, but this film felt like it needed some stronger resolutions.

Acting-wise, the film is hit or miss. Both Academy Award winners Anne Hathaway and Anthony Hopkins do tremendous work with emotional, moving performances. Strong’s portrayal of the father, though, is off. There are times where the character seems almost out of place because of how Strong is delivering dialogue.

Overall, there are a lot of positives in “Armageddon Time” and it’s clear it was a labor of love from Gray who was quite inspired by his own life. It’s a finely made picture, yet one wishes the storytelling was more fine-tuned and some of the acting was stronger here and there. 3.5 out of 5.


Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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