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Cannes Day 3: James Gray’s Armageddon Time is a thoughtful movie memoir

The performances in Armageddon Time are excellent. The actors playing the two boys are alive to each moment, as are the adults, and the terrific Hopkins shows how it is done, with kindness and compassion.

Armageddon Time cannes screeningArmageddon Time is set in the early 80s.

I think I’ve seen my favourite Cannes 2022 film till now. James Gray, a frequent visitor to the film festival (this is his fifth film here) proves with his thoughtful memoir ‘Armageddon Time’ that the personal, irradiated with the political, is the most powerful of genres.

The film is set in the early 80s, when Reagan was up for election. A Jewish family in Queens, modelled on Gray’s own, is like a microcosm of the America of that time, trying to assimilate as well as holding on to their traditions at the same time. At the centre of the narrative are two boys, Paul (Banks Repeta) and Johnny (Jaylin Webb), who are instantly drawn to each other despite their differences. Because at heart, they are similar: both are rebels, pushing back at the strictures laid down by family and the larger world outside.

Paul wants to be an artist, and his parents, products of Jewish immigrants–her (Anne Hathaway) a homemaker and the president of the PTA in Paul’s neighbourhood school, and him (Jeremy Strong) a low grade engineer from a humble background– will have none of it. The only one who understands Paul is his maternal grandfather (Anthony Hopkins), and never fails to encourage him in his pursuits. Johnny, the lone Black kid in school, who has been held back a year, looks older than the rest. He lives with his sick grandmother, is always on the verge of being hauled off by the welfare system, and is buffeted by the N word every waking moment. The school’s principal is a jerk, and the rest of the kids are indifferent at best.


There’s a real sense of time and place in ‘Armageddon Time’ – Reagan making promises on black and white TV sets, the to-be president’s family members (Jessica Chastain in a chilling cameo) showing up at Paul’s schools to pronounce on the virtues of hard work, and how class and race plays out in charting the paths of the two boys. After a climactic incident, Paul is forced into walking away, with Johnny, facing juvenile detention, already resigned to his future. The performances are excellent. The actors playing the two boys are alive to each moment, as are the adults, and the terrific Hopkins shows how it is done, with kindness and compassion.

Has anything changed? Racism is still alive and kicking in Biden’s America. It’s always armageddon time.

**

Two South Korean agents at loggerheads. Bloody killings. Black sedans chasing each other. And the search for a mole. Squid Game star Lee-jung Jae’s directorial debut is a full-blooded, full-tilt espionage thriller set in the 80s.


The film opens with a botched assassination attempt in Washington DC. A man with a rifle is knocked off even as he surrenders. Why was he shot? As he goes down, he shouts, ‘I was only following orders’. Whose orders? Park (Lee-jung Jae) is pitted against Kim (Jung-woo Sung), as professional rivals who are on the same side. But are they really? And who is Donglim, the North Korean mole, who has infiltrated their ranks?

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The action is hot and heavy, with back-to-back set-pieces complete with men in black, rattling guns and dead bodies (the S Koreans have made foreheads being blown apart in a thin spray of blood an art form). Brutal torture is thrown in, and innocent teachers and students are made the targets of state rage. Protests are bad. Misinformation is rife, and you realise that fake news has always been part of our ecosystems, as a way to counter those who question the status-quo. In this sea of men, a lone female agent (Jeon Hye-Jin) shows up and leaps about energetically, but is also made to provide comic relief.

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‘Hunt’ gets a trifle muddled as the body count piles up, but even in the mayhem, you get a sense of what lives were like in S Korea in the 80s. Today it is all sunny K-dramas and uber-famous pop groups, but back then it was another world, living in the shadow of one of the most repressive regimes. In that sense ‘Hunt’ feels like a retro squid game: one way or another, you get shot.

First published on: 20-05-2022 at 06:12:14 pm
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