James Gray taps back into his own childhood growing up in 1980s Queens for his rapturously praised movie memoir, “Armageddon Time.” The latest from the director of “Ad Astra” and “The Immigrant,” “Armageddon Time” gathered raves in Cannes before solidifying its position in the Oscar race in Telluride over the past weekend.
The all-star ensemble for “Armageddon Time” features Emmy winner Jeremy Strong, along with Anthony Hopkins and Anne Hathaway. All are already in the awards mix for their turns, but especially Strong, who plays a moody plumber father (to Banks Repeta) weathering societal change up against the backdrop of the rise of Ronald Reagan, on the cusp of becoming president in 1980.
Per IndieWire’s review out of Cannes, “On its surface, ‘Armageddon Time’ is the unsparingly well-remembered story of a pre-pubescent Jewish boy named Paul Graff (Banks Repeta), the slightly older Black kid he meets on the first day of school in September 1980 (Jaylin Webb plays second-time sixth-grader Johnny Davis), and the semi-guileless friendship these two space cadets form on the strength of their mutual interests: rocket ships and fucking with their racist asshole of a homeroom teacher. It’s a story about the invisible fault lines of inequality, the moral compromises demanded by the American Dream, and the very practical ways in which remembering the past can be the only legitimate defense against the social forces that keep trying to repackage it as a vision of the future.”
“This role was a role I was very frightened of and drawn to at the same time, which is what you’re looking for,” Strong told IndieWire. “This man is trying to do the best he can as a father, and in a lot of ways is not equipped to do that well. He’s trying to toughen up his kids and prepare them for an unfair world, so that they can survive in it, and there are misguided ways that he does that. But I think there’s a lot of tenderness and love there, as well as cruelty.”
IndieWire also spoke with Gray, who detailed editing the film during 18-hour days for two months, during the Cannes Film Festival here.
“I had a difficult time making the last two pictures,” Gray said. “One was in the jungle, and one was on stages with Brad Pitt on wires in a capsule. It was physically and logistically difficult. And I wanted to rediscover my love of actually making films. I had wanted to do something about my family and about that episode of my life. It was my way to rediscover a kind of passion for the type of movies that I like.”