Armageddon Time

Where I Watched it: iTunes

English Audio Description provided By: The Media Access Group

Narrated By: Adrienne Barbeau

What I knew about Armageddon Time going in was that it was basically a failed Oscar bait film. It wasn’t getting the kind of reception it had hoped for from all the precursor awards/ That doesn’t always mean a film is bad. Mass got zero nominations last year only because Oscar voters suck. Not because the film did. So maybe Armageddon time was this year’s Mass. It’s not.

It’s like Kanye’s fever dream. Racist Jewish people. I’m not really sure what James Gray was going for here. I’ve heard this is a deeply personal film for him. is this his childhood? Good lord, if that’s true.

The film features two young boys, one Jewish and one black who become friends, yet life happens. It’s really a showcase about how sometimes the world can take something good and innocent and rip it apart with hatred. And hatred for no reason at all. Our Jewish family is pretty racist across the board, except our young protagonist (and a nice supporting turn from Anthony Hopkins). But, a conversation is had about how the schools are getting worse because they are letting “anyone in” now, Anne hathway’s mother character has no problem using racist slang to describe the Japanese people, and in one scene when someone is about to place a food order for delivery, Jeremy strong’s aggressively terrible father says “No Ching Chong food tonight.”

There’s more, of course, but aside from the two kids, the only decent person seems to be an exhausted Anthony Hopkins. Jeremy Strong’s performance is the stuff made of nightmares. I mean, holy shit. Kendall from succession? I would have never guessed he had this performance in him.There’s a scene where his wife, Anne Hathaway’s least likeable character ever, basically sicks her husband on their son, knowing he has a temper problem, and knowing full well he is going to beat him silly. I think there’s a difference between all these spankings some of us received as a child, and Jeremy Strong using his Chuck Norris powers to kick in a locked door and wailing on his son. That was a very difficult scene to watch, and I was done with Strong after that. There’s a scene later on when he’s calm, and he tries to offer some advice, but i still just wanted someone to walk up behind him and stab him in the ear.

Then, we have Jalen Webb, who is responsible essentially for speaking for black people everywhere. He’s the fucking black Lorax. In some weird dynamic, our main kid, played also wonderfully by Banks Repeda, gets this whole family and backstory, and Webb is left to fuck off. There’s a mention that he lives with his grandma, but God forbid we actually get to see the grandmother, or even follow Webb home to see if that’s bullshit. No, Webb, as soon as he’s introduced, is a token character, a troublemaker, and he’s been held back. He’s the lone black kid who introduces our poor Jewish boy to marijuana, and hip hop music. Most of the time, he’s sleeping in a clubhouse out back that was built for Repeta, because he apparently exists only to be the most pathetic representation this year.

and you might think this film was trying to say something. And i think it actually is. there’s one scene, that is really well described by Adrienne, that features our two boys being interrogated. Only Webb has handcuffs on.

i don’t know what James Gray is trying to say here. Jewish people are racist? Parents suck? People don’t pay attention to black kids unless they are causing trouble? Who the hell knows. This film is full of uncomfortable themes that seemingly go nowhere with no payoff, and it circles around one of the more aggressively racist screenplays of the year.

So, why might you ask, am I not tanking this film? Because, aside from Anne Hathaway, the acting here is fucking on point. Let’s first talk about Jalen Webb. i don’t know if you can quite grasp the fact that this is a young boy, who has to represent often a lifetime of systematic racism in just a look. he just side eyes, and he’s making up somehow for the lack of storyline for his character, or any substantial character development. Webb takes a token directionless character and steals the show with him. That’s hard for an actor to do who has a long career, but Webb does it as a kid.

Banks Repeta is also quite good in the lead role, and reminds me a lot of Jude Hill from last years Belfast. He’s sympathetic, and you do like him, even if you’re not sure what the takeaway is from his character.

Anthony Hopkins is adorable as a doting grandfather who brings his grandson gifts, and seems to be the one guy who acts like a normal person in the family. He’s kind, and he gives Repeta hope that he might have a future as an artist.

And while i hated his character, Jeremy Strong did a terrific job working against type to create this monster, and I can’t totally ignore that.

I’m not going to tank the film, because these kids deserve to be seen. I don’t know what James Gray was trying to do here, and I no longer care. Webb and Repeta are why you should watch this. use the rest of the film as a what not to do.

Final Grade: B-

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