A racing film with grim conclusions

Picture for article titled'In Armageddon Time', a white director avoids a Hollywood ending over racism

picture: Anne Joyce/Focus Features

Director James Gray said He wrote his new film, Armageddon period, in 2019, but the endeavor feels very much like 2020. It’s a reckoning. A portrait of Gray’s youth in Queens in the early 1980’s, it is to Gray’s design “The anti-nostalgia film.” It’s mostly about the negotiations his avatar Paul (Banks Repeta) has with a black sixth-grade classmate and his casually racist family. It admirably avoids crediting Paul’s swimming against the current – he’s an incompetent white rescuer who often gives in to societal pressures and abandons his disadvantaged friend Johnny (Jaylin Webb). How much could reasonably be expected of a sixth grader in 1980, however, is another question, and there’s an argument that Gray will imbibe some virtue just by showcasing Paul’s ability to think outside of what he nurtures from his family becomes . His character may not be admirable, but isn’t it admirable that Gray admits that publicly?

The politics of Armageddon period Catching Gray in a Catch-22: It’s about time white directors started thinking about race and racism, especially when it comes to their own lives and privilege, and yet telling these stories because of that privilege, Pat, well, don’t… That a shame are conclusions that don’t move the needle, but instead affirm privilege. she can take on the slimy appearance of refined glee.

To Gray’s credit, he keeps things as factual as possible about the highly subjective experience of his own formative years, and his story manages to be clear yet layered. No pink looking back is this gritty, pea green and tan take on the early ’80s. Paul repeatedly witnesses the different ways he and Johnny are treated by their miserable teacher, Mr. Turkeltaub (Andrew Polk). He overhears his Jewish family, many of whom survived the Holocaust, using anti-Black language. His parents, Esther (Anne Hathaway, who’s such a pro she uses impeccable naturalism to turn a lowly maternal role into magic) and Irving (an equally fantastic Jeremy Strong), unnecessarily insert race into conversation – “Your mother said you and some black kids smoked drugs at school,” Irving yells after Paul and Johnny were caught smoking weed in the bathroom. This leads to a terrifying scene where an angry Irving hits Paul with a belt and then enrolls him in a private school. There, kids say the N-word and ask in disgust if a black man has ever been in Paul’s house. The school is supported by Fred Trump, Donald’s father, and we watch Maryanne Trump (Jessica Chastain in a cameo) address the students.

The entire film is set against the backdrop of the 1980 presidential election. A scene is playing in the background filming by Ronald Reagan, who predicted Armageddon, the US was to become another Sodom and Gomorrah.

ARMAGEDDON TIME – Official Trailer – In select cinemas on October 28th

The presence of Paul’s grandfather Aaron (Anthony Hopkins) helps detoxify the air – he encourages his grandson to be a “human” to people like Johnny who are otherwise mistreated in the culture. (The warmth Hopkins exudes is diametrically opposed to his most famous portrayal of the film’s cannibalistic sociopath Hannibal Lecter silence of the Lambs Movies.) When Johnny gets wind that he might be placed in foster care due to his caring grandmother’s illness, he begins living in Paul’s small open plan clubhouse in his backyard. (“Be careful, your dad saw a black boy sneaking down the alley, so lock everything,” warns an unsuspecting Esther.) Paul hatches a plan to steal a computer from his well-funded private school so that he and Johnny can can pawn it and flee to Florida. His idealism and naivety prevent him from understanding that the stakes in such a robbery are far from equal for Paul and Johnny. Paul learns a lesson so valuable his real-life counterpart adapted it in the cinema decades later. Presumably Johnny has confirmed what he already understood about the world.

The real Johnny is dead, by the way — although Gray said he “loved” his friend, they lost touch after a similar attempted theft (although it was told by star trek blueprints by Bloomingdales, worth decidedly less than a computer). In the promotional tour for Armageddon period, Gray has come off as a little superficial when it comes to his childhood friend. He agreed meeting:

I don’t know the exact year [of his death] because I only found out about it in the early 90s, a few years later. He was killed in a drug deal in Jamaica, Queens. I don’t know the details, it would take a lot of forensics to uncover, but it can be found if I had the motivation.

What Gray says in his art is more sensitive and delicate, an indication of how useful the medium can be for one’s message. Incidentally, during at least this press period, Gray has also shown a habit of calling himself an artist and apologizing for it. To Indiewire: “I think the job of the artist – if I may use that word – is to find out what’s wrong with the world, through what’s most vulnerable about us, and then to reveal it to you.” To the Los Angeles Times: “What is important to you as an artist, if I may use this word?” to diversity: “To me, it’s the artist’s responsibility – if I may use that big fancy word – to remove the wall that is naturally erected between artist and work, actor and character, director and actor, director and screenplay, to make it try to be as honest as possible about myself and understand more directly what my definition of good art is.”

Eventually, Armageddon period is compelling because, as these quotes imply, it’s messy and resistant to the kind of Hollywood ending that might make this material easier to swallow. Paul learns that life is not fair, although he breaks with the convention of how such lessons are commonly taught in art, he learns that he is the beneficiary of this injustice. As his father tells him, “Sometimes some people get a bad deal and I hate that. It’s the worst thing in the world, but you have to survive. So all you can do now is make the most of your break and not look back.” The film reflects that. Some viewers will see it as revelation; Others, all too familiar with observing disparities from the other side of the tracks, will simply find it redundant.

https://jezebel.com/armageddon-time-movie-review-1849710040 A racing film with grim conclusions

Adam Bradshaw

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