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"ARMAGEDDON TIME"
(2022) (Banks Repeta, Anne Hathaway) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Family members and others try to set an unruly and disrespectful sixth grader straight.
PLOT:

It's 1980 and Paul Graff (BANKS REPETA) lives in Queens, New York with his older brother, Ted (RYAN SELL), and their parents, PTA President Esther (ANNE HATHAWAY) and Irving (JEREMY STRONG), a plumber. While Ted attends a prestigious private school, Paul has just started 6th grade in the public school system, and much like his friend, Johnny Davis (JAYLIN WEBB), he's a troublemaker to their teacher, Mr. Turkeltaub (ANDREW POLK).

Paul is also a handful at home, although he listens to his grandfather, Aaron Rabinowitz (ANTHONY HOPKINS), who tries to impart various bits of wisdom to the boy, including lessons about tolerance and intolerance in the world, past and present.

As Paul continues to act up and cause strife at school and at home, all involved try to set the boy straight, to varying degrees of success and failure.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

In general, most folks don't like disagreeable people, unless, of course, they sense some sort of camaraderie or common purpose and belief system with them. The latter explains why some political figures get away with being jerks and occasionally horrible human beings. Otherwise, and unless said nasty people are members of one's family, most people want to avoid or at least stay as far away as possible from them.

The same holds true in movies. Unless your main character is an anti-hero (like the recent title character in "Black Adam") or an outright mesmerizing villain (as in Joaquin Phoenix's character in "The Joker"), it's usually a bad idea for the protagonist to be unlikeable. Why? Well, most people want to be entertained and have someone to root for rather than not particularly like as a person.

That's a somewhat vexing problem in the otherwise decently made "Armageddon Time" which sort of sounds like it should be about an asteroid headed for Earth, but instead is a loosely autobiographical look at director James Gray's upbringing in Queens, New York in the 1980s. While I know the era well -- I graduated from high school in '82 -- I'm not familiar with Gray's early days and thus can't comment whether his young protagonist here -- Paul Graff (Banks Repeta) -- is something of a mirror impression of him or someone he knew at the time.

But there's no denying that the sixth grader is a smart-aleck jerk who's generally disagreeable and sometimes belligerent toward his parents (Anne Hathaway and Jeremy Strong), older brother (Ryan Sell), and public school teacher (Andrew Polk). He then befriends another troublemaker, fellow student Johnny (Jaylin Webb) to the point that any viewer who's not a similar sociopath will generally not like him (although there's no denying Repeta's portrayal of him is good).

At least he seems to listen to his wise grandfather (the always reliable Anthony Hopkins) who tries to impart some wisdom to the boy. Most of that stems from older members of the family having had to contend with antisemitism in the past. And Paul then sees another side of such racial hatred when he ends up at his brother's elite school (that features a few real-life Trump figures, including one played in a high-profile cameo by Jessica Chastain) and some classmates act in disgust when Johnny, a black kid, shows up on the other side of the fence.

Now realizing the social and racial inequalities of his era, and fed up with his family, Paul tries to make things right -- at least in his still developing sense of right, wrong, and overall reality - and give himself and Johnny a better life. Naturally, things go disastrously wrong, a plot development that further points to those societal issues.

While I had some problems with a few plot developments - including a disturbing one that makes sense until one realizes it likely would have happened much earlier in the film based on the kid's behavior - and the unlikeable protagonist problem, overall, I appreciate what the film does with its thematic material. Coupled with strong performances across the board, "Armageddon Time" earns a 6.5 out of 10.




Posted November 4, 2022


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