A movie theatre waiting for its seats to been filled with guests curious about the films impact. PHOTO COURTESY OF PUBLIC DOMAIN PHOTOS
With social commentary as insulting as this, it might have been better to say nothing at all.
On Oct. 28, 2022, “Armageddon Time,” directed by James Gray, was released in theaters, presenting a coming-of-age story about two young boys growing up in the 1980s. Most of the movie’s promotional materials focus on how the friendship of a Caucasian boy and African American boy challenges the era’s racially-charged society. However, nothing Gray does challenges audiences to think deeper on history’s dark truths, almost to the point of indirectly justifying it.
Paul Graff (Banks Repeta) and Johnny Davis (Jaylin Webb) struggle to focus in grade school due to their aspirations and other antics removing them, literally and figuratively, from the classroom. After one of their stunts goes too far, Paul receives harsh scrutiny from his mother (Anne Hathaway) and father (Jeremy Strong), removing him from his public school and away from his African American friend. Paul must then rely on the guidance of his grandfather (Anthony Hopkins) to maneuver through the harsh world.
Along with its themes regarding systemic racism, Gray attempts to cover topics such as the American Dream through Paul’s journey, framing him as the artist whose family forces to study business.
I am critical of the film’s presentation of racial issues, but it is a critical flaw that nearly ruins the entire viewing experience. For Paul, racism is presented as merely an inconvenience; there are scenes where racism is addressed as, “something bad that unfortunately happens,” but there is never a genuine attempt by Paul and his family to truly make things better.
Am I saying that I wanted a “happy ending” to a story about the very real and very violent systemic racism present in late 1900s America? Of course not, but it seems like this movie tries to make this happen without truly putting in the effort to do so. Gray’s attempts to make a lighthearted film while so vapidly presenting racism just makes for a really awkward two hours where I am still unsure what I am supposed to take away in the end.
The film’s acting and script are also just as awkward as the film’s overall tone. There are so many scenes where too much is happening verbally; characters speak without any natural cadence, feeling as if the actors/actress were reading their lines as fast as possible just to get filming done quicker. While this issue shows during one-on-one dialogue scenes, scenes with multiple characters are plagued with constant interjections with no actual flow akin to a group conversation.
After seeing Repeta in “The Devil All the Time,” I was expecting his performance in “Armageddon Time” to be pretty good, especially given the focus on his character in the film’s trailers. Unfortunately, Repeta offers nearly-no emotion in both his line delivery and body language. Despite the film’s notable cast, all other performances were bland and one-note, with Hopkins especially giving a sense of “I don’t want to be here.”
The movie feels like it’s both missing scenes, yet also has too many at the same time. Multiple plot points are brought up once and then never resolved. Even the film’s main conflict sort of fizzles out just when it feels like it truly starts moving forward.
Without directly spoiling the ending, one of the final scenes is easily the best part of the entire movie, mainly because it feels like the pacing actually slowed down enough for the performers to take their time and act.
Cinematography is painfully basic, relying on shot-reverse-shot with absolutely no camera movement. The film’s score felt almost randomly-generated, both original and license music being played without really adding to any scene.
“Armageddon Time” entertained me in an opposite way to what was likely intended. Technically, thematically and dramatically, the movie fails to capitalize on what was already a trite premise that is difficult to pull off well. Perhaps the most tragic part of my viewing experience was being told by a nice lady in the theater that she was taken to see this movie for her forty-first wedding anniversary.
“Armageddon Time” gets a 3 out of 10.