Anne Hathaway is incongruously cast in the hellish yet magical Armageddon Time – iNews

The title may evoke apocalypse but James Gray’s autobiographical coming-of-age drama has nothing to do with the end of the world. It’s set in New York, in 1980, where a precocious 11-year-old boy is going through some acute growing pains.
Paul Graff (Banks Repeta) has a very vivid imagination and a prodigious talent for art but his teachers think he is “slow” and distracted. He is always getting into scrapes with his friend Johnny (Jaylin Webb), one of the few black kids at his inner city school.
Sometimes, it grows very bleak. Paul, the white Jewish kid, and Johnny, the black kid from a broken family, are very close friends and yet end up on completely different paths. Paul has a few lucky breaks (it helps that he is white). Johnny, though, is spat out by the system. He dreams of working for Nasa but no one even sees his potential, yet alone attempts to harness it.
Jeremy Strong (the maniacally ambitious Kendall from TV’s Succession) and Anne Hathaway are incongruously cast as Paul’s parents, living a humble existence in Queens. Dad Irving is a plumber, disappointed about how his life turned out, a decent and unassuming man but one with a violent streak. Mom Esther is a homebody, worn down by daily cares. The only family member Paul listens to, though, is his wise old grandfather, Aaron Rabinowitz (Anthony Hopkins, cast against type as a Jewish patriarch but on typical scene-stealing form). Aaron is a Holocaust survivor who is wise, funny, rich and resilient, and knows just how to spin a yarn.
Gray’s storytelling style is nostalgic and very evocative. The film is shot in grey, desaturated colours – he is bringing back to life the city he remembers from his childhood, and throws in continual background references to the politics of the period. Ronald Reagan is running for president, and Paul’s father is appalled, convinced Ronnie is so stupid he might just unleash nuclear Holocaust.
Donald Trump’s father, Fred Trump, also gets a look-in as one of the benefactors of the upmarket private school where Johnny is transferred by his parents to keep him out of trouble. And Jessica Chastain has a cameo as another member of the Trump clan, Donald’s sister, lawyer Maryanne.
But not everything rings true. Paul’s family is portrayed as struggling to make ends meet and yet, with the grandfather’s help, the boy is suddenly able to attend one of the most prestigious schools in the neighbourhood – a bastion of white privilege.
What gives the film its resonance is Repeta’s fierce, unsentimental performance as the young lead. He is not the doe-eyed innocent you often find in Hollywood movies about childhood. Instead, he has a subversive streak. In almost every scene, Gray will train the camera on his face as he tries to make sense of what the adults around him are up to.
They’re generally deeply flawed. The school teachers are bullies. There are rapacious, nakedly capitalist types like Fred Trump on the one hand and those weaklings who’ve been left behind by the American system, like Paul’s own father, on the other.
We can guess from the outset that Paul will find a way to escape his background but that he will feel deep regret about doing so. Gray’s achievement here is to make this boy’s life seem both hellish but also strangely magical.
In cinemas now
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