Mercifully, not all mainstream movies are about superheroes, aliens or zombies.
Occasionally, a movie comes along that is about real people and real life. They can be about growing up or growing old or any number of the dilemmas and challenges that we face on our life journey.
Armageddon Time is one of those movies.
While the title might imply a larger-than-life sci-fi story about some cataclysmic end of humanity, it is actually based on a fear-inducing quote from one of Ronald Reagan’s speeches.
In actuality, the movie Armageddon Time is a coming-of-age story about a boy in a middle-class Jewish family living in New Jersey in the 1980s.
Newcomer Banks Repeta plays Paul Graff, a young teenager attempting to navigate the turbulent formative years that bridge childhood and being an adult. It is a confusing world in which he makes a lot of bad decisions despite the patient guidance and advice from his maternal grandfather, Aaron Rabinowitz, played brilliantly by Anthony Hopkins.
On the surface, not much happens in Armageddon Time. It’s a pretty average family facing pretty ordinary problems, with the exception that this family struggles to survive and succeed in the toxic anti-semitic atmosphere that stifled their dreams and stood in their way.
Beyond the social-cultural issues were reflections of classism and racism. More specifically the family becomes concerned with Paul’s friendship with a black classmate from the other side of the tracks played by Johnny Davis. The two of them share a sense of nonconformity and rebelliousness that occasionally gets them in trouble with their teachers and parents.
They wander away from a school field trip to New York City, they get caught smoking pot in the boy’s room, and later they get into more serious trouble as their desire to get away from society’s restrictions and pressures pushes them over the limit.
At the center of the movie is Paul’s friendship with Johnny which becomes increasingly difficult as their lives and circumstances send them in polar opposite directions. Loyalty is eventually put to the test.
The big moment in Armageddon Time revolves around friendship, loyalty and betrayal, and the consequences of not doing what you know is right. It’s about a choice that you realize will haunt you the rest of your life.
In that sense, Armageddon Time is a quietly powerful movie that has a lesson about humanity. It is loosely based on a real-life incident pulled from writer/director James Gray’s past. It is a moment of heartfelt truth. It is one of the painfully bad decisions that we all make from time to time that we wish we could go back and fix.
Among the reasons to see Armageddon Time are the casting of some first-rate talent including Anthony Hopkins and Ann Hathaway as Paul’s troubled, conflicted mom. The supporting cast are a perfect compliment.
It’s the kind of modestly budgeted, ensemble project that is a favorite of film critics at film festivals. It’s the kind of movie that garners rave reviews but then struggles to find an audience at the multiplex.
We’ve become conditioned to seek out movies with more splash. Occasionally we’ll catch up with movies like Armageddon Time when it hits the cable and streaming services. Hopkins and Hathaway will draw an audience from their fan bases.
In the grand scheme of things, Armageddon Time will not stand with the great movies about youthfulness and growing up. It’s not on a par with Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959) or even more recent gems like George Clooney’s The Tender Bar (2021). It falls short of that level of originality and passion.
There are times when Armageddon Time seems to be borrowing from other movies. I’m speaking of a moment when the two buddies decide to bag everything and buy a bus ticket to Florida, much like the protagonists in the Oscar winning film Midnight Cowboy (1969).
There is a recurring theme that centers around both boys dreams to work for NASA. They collect NASA patches and draw pictures of rockets blasting off to the stars.
While Armageddon Time may aim at the stars, it is instead a movie that is content to make us casual observers to the trials and tribulations of growing up in an earlier time.
It’s a nostalgic tale with a message worth thinking about. One that lacks the level of drama that we’ve become accustomed to, but one that reminds us of the importance the people in our lives who shape what we ultimately become.
It’s about the decisions we make and the consequences of those decisions that we must carry with us. For that, it deserves some credit.
Armageddon Time is in theaters now.