Armageddon Time: Film starring Trump family is attack on capitalism, says maker Movie


A new film set in 1980s New York and starring Donald Trump’s real estate mogul father Fred and his successful lawyer sister Maryanne is a direct attack on late capitalism, according to the cast and director.

Armageddon Time, which premieres at the Cannes Film Festival and stars Succession’s Jeremy Strong in a cameo alongside Oscar winner Jessica Chastain as Maryanne Trump, is set in the run-up to Ronald Reagan’s election to the presidency and explores the layers of privilege that decide about the future of children who attend different schools in the same city.

James Gray at the Armageddon Time press conference in Cannes on Friday.
James Gray at the Armageddon Time press conference in Cannes on Friday. Photo: Stefano Rellandini/AFP/Getty Images

Writer-director James Gray said: “I think we’re in serious trouble. History is very complex, but there are turning points every few years and this moment in the 1980s was one of them.

“These kids at the private school are going to lead everything and they know it,” Gray said. “There’s something ossified about a system that keeps the same people at the top. Why don’t we look at this system that requires some level of repression to work? I have tried to show the layers of this system and this idea of ​​privilege.”

Strong, who plays rising global magnate Kendall Roy in Succession, said it was possible to find “the genome” for “the incurable decadence in the United States” in the film.

“You can find a common thread that connects these two worlds,” said the actor, who plays a version of Gray’s angry working-class father in Armageddon Time. “When I lived in the world of this film, there was no succession for me, but it is true that the fault lines that we are beginning to tear in this story have widened and become the political and social divisions that we are see now.”

While Armageddon Time primarily focuses on the hopes of members of a struggling Jewish family, the broader story depicts the period of American politics that Gray believes led to the racism, inequality and confused morals of today.

Jeremy Strong as Irving Graff and Anne Hathaway as Esther Graff in Armageddon Time.
Jeremy Strong as Irving Graff and Anne Hathaway as Esther Graff in Armageddon Time. Photo: Courtesy of Focus Features

The director was 12 years old at the time of shooting his film. A fan of Muhammad Ali and the Beatles, the election of Reagan in 1980 came at the same time as Ali’s boxing ring loss to Leon Spinks, the shooting of John Lennon in Manhattan, and the renewed threat of nuclear conflict. The birth of market dominance, coupled with the demise of the adventurous New Hollywood movies Gray loves, didn’t help either, he said.

“How did we get here?” the director wondered. “With everything owned by two people and a bunch of authoritarians trying to take over the planet? Kids today don’t even understand the term ‘sold out’, they think it just means there are no more tickets.”

He lamented the importance of film franchises in the entertainment industry and spoke of the continuing influence of white privilege in America, although he said he wrote the screenplay for Armageddon Time before the death of George Floyd and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Young actor Jaylin Webb plays a poor black schoolboy in the film, a character with no resources to turn to when faced with prejudice and disadvantage. “Luckily, I never experienced what Johnny experienced as an adult,” he said.

Anne Hathaway, who plays Esther Graff, a character based on Gray’s own mother, said she was inspired by the warmth of her own late mother-in-law when creating her portrayal.

“Who wouldn’t be honored to play a Jewish mother?” said the actor, holding back tears. “My husband is Jewish. We spoke about what it would mean for our family to take on this role.”

Gray said an old friend recently advised him not to read newspapers or watch the news if he wanted to improve his mood, but said it wasn’t an option for him.

“Things weigh on me,” he said, “but when you’re a creative person, you can’t disconnect from the world. I have no idea how to solve inequality problems, so you have to show it to the audience. I don’t think it’s my job to answer that. As artists, we are here to ask questions.”

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