A beautiful cast at odds with the plot in “Armageddon Time”
If Steven Spielberg can make an autobiographical coming-of-age movie (“The Fabelmans”) at 75, I guess it’s OK for 53-year-old James Gray to make one. “Armageddon Time”, which takes its title from a reggae song covered by the Clash in 1979, is an odd title for a film about a confused but talented kid in 1980s Queens from a middle-class Jewish family. in trouble. Paul Graff (Banks Repeta, “Black Phone”) is a student in a 6th grade class full of ethnically and racially mixed students. One of them, a black student named Johnny Crocker (Jaylin Webb, TV’s “The Wonder Years”), is significantly taller than his classmates. Johnny, who has been held back for a year, and teacher Mr. Turkeltaub (Andrew Polk) are often at loggerheads. On a class trip to the Guggenheim Museum on the Upper East Side, Paul and Johnny bond, split from the group, and explore the city. At the Guggenheim, Paul discovered the abstract work of Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky.
Paul, who draws well and is often at odds with his hardworking father Irving (Jeremy Strong of TV’s “Succession”), wants to be an artist when he grows up. His father, more pragmatic, wants him to have a backup plan. Johnny, Paul’s friend, has a collection of NASA patches and dreams of being an astronaut. Paul has a strong bond with his elderly grandfather Aaron Rabinowitz (Anthony Hopkins), a Jew who came to America from Ukraine. Paul plans to launch a small rocket with his grandfather at Flushing Meadows.
Johnny and Paul have completely different lives. Johnny lives with his sick grandmother, who suffers from dementia. Like young Woody Allen, Paul is surrounded by Jewish relatives, including an older brother (Ryan Sell) and his beloved mother Esther Graff (Anne Hathaway), who is head of the PTA, his grandmother Mickey (Tovah Feldshuh) and others. At one point in the story, after being caught smoking a joint with Johnny, Paul is sent to a private school, where he must wear a uniform and where his classmates include the children of Donald Trump, whose one uses a racial slur in reference. to Johnny. In these scenes, Jessica Chastain appears briefly as attorney Maryanne Trump. She gives a strange speech from someone so privileged about how she had to fight to get where she is. Oh good?
Gray’s career has had its ups and downs. He has strong supporters (I hesitated). His previous efforts run the gamut from crime drama (“The Yards,” “We Own the Night”) to sci-fi (“Ad Astra”) and a British adventure film (“The Lost City of Z”). . “Armageddon Time” has a great cast. But I didn’t buy the Welshman Hopkins as a Ukrainian Jew despite the flicker. The story meanders, rather than leading to a dramatically remarkable conclusion. At one point, Johnny takes to the streets to avoid being placed in the foster care system and sleeps in a clubhouse Paul’s father built for Paul in their backyard. Johnny wants Paul to accompany him to a concert of the pioneering rap group Sugarhill Gang. Ronald Reagan is elected. The Graffs are appalled.
Gray veteran Darius Khondji’s visuals are blurry to the point of distracting. Is there no sunshine in Queens? Johnny dreams of moving to Florida (maybe he also wants more light) and getting a job at NASA. Paul, who seemed a bit irrational to me, concocts a scheme to raise the money needed for them to do so. In the sequence involving the racial slur, Paul denies knowing Johnny, much like Peter denies Christ. It rings out at the end, about a sacrifice. But then you also realize that “Armageddon Time” has missed its chance.
(“Armaeddon Time” contains profanity and drug use)
“TIME OF ARMAGEDDON”
Rated R. At AMC Boston Common, Landmark Kendall Square and suburban theaters.