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Armageddon Time

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“Sometimes kids at school say things about the Black kids.” Paul Graff (Banks Repeta)

“What do you do when that happens?” Grandpa Aaron Rabinowitz (Anthony Hopkins)

“Obviously, nothing.” Paul Graff

Grandpa Aaron Rabinowitz: “Do you think that's smart?”

In the low-key, muted, effective Armageddon Time, writer-director James Gray remembers his childhood in 1980 Queens where his 11-year-old stand in, naïve Paul, faces the realities of racism and privilege. It’s conservative time with the election of Ronald Reagan, hawkish as he was about the nuclear option, and a condescending speech at Paul’s very private Kew-Forest school by a Trump family member, Maryanne (Jessica Chastain), an attorney with an exhortation for students to make it on their own (We now know better, at least for the Trumps).

Paul is coming of age amidst the privilege of a family that can afford private school. It’s apparent that the Graff family suffered through the war and even now, enough to change their surname and avoid clashes with white supremacists. Just as some Italians did, they assimilate well enough to enjoy a screening of Private Benjamin without a wince. PTA pres mom (Anne Hathaway) is a promise that ornery Paul will not be expelled for his anger at racist teachers.

Nor will he be detained for stealing a computer from his school with his Black friend, Johnny (Jaylin Webb), because of his dad’s (Jeremy Strong) connection with a cop. Johnny will be detained, and Paul may never see him again. Paul learns the limits of his protest that the theft was his idea when privilege releases him and incarcerates Johnny. Although Paul tacitly supports the demands of inequality, this remembrance may be the only antidote years later.

Wisdom lives within Grandpa Aaron Rabinowitz (Anthony Hopkins), who encourages Paul to speak out against bigotry (see opening quote), helps him launch a rocket, and brings calm to an otherwise fractious family. Yet, it’s grandpa who sends Paul to the private school in a gesture to their assimilation and furtherance from social equality.

If you need a respite from the demands of Till, about the horrible racism that lynched Emmett Till in 1955, then Armageddon Time is a quieter take with the added insight of a Jewish perspective. Social inequality is alive and well, however, today.

Armageddon Time

Director: James Gray (Ad Astra)

Screenplay: Gray

Cast: Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables), Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs)

Run Time: 1h 55m

Rating: R

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts NPR’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics as well as podcasts Back Talk and Double Take out of WCBE 90.5 FM. Contact him at JohnDeSando52@gmail.com