Update: Focus Features has acquired worldwide rights to fund and distribute the film for around $15 million, Deadline reports.
It’s been more than a year since word emerged that James Gray would, post-Ad Astra, make a return to small-scale filmmaking with Armageddon Time, reportedly a fictionalization of his mid-80s upbringing in Queens’ Kew-Forest School, its principal, and board member Fred Trump. From Deadline now comes word that the film, which “explores friendship and loyalty against the backdrop of an America poised to elect Ronald Reagan,” is moving forward with the not-inconsiderable cast of Robert De Niro, Cate Blanchett, Donald Sutherland, Oscar Isaac, and Anne Hathaway.
No notice of who’s playing who; much more substantial are his descriptions of the project to Deadline. Calling it an opposite to Ad Astra‘s “vast, lonely and dark void,” he says:
“I’m anxious to make something that is very much about people, about human emotions and interactions between people, and I want it to be filled with warmth and tenderness. In some sense, yes it’s about my childhood, but an illustration of familial love really on every level. I’m of the belief that most people do their best and that they try their best under difficult circumstances and in some sense that’s a beautiful thing and very moving to me. In a grander sense, if I may sound a little sententious and pretentious, history and myth always begin in the microcosm of the personal and though you are using something so small and specific in your life, the result can become universal if it accesses real emotion. I’ve tried to move to the opposite of a cold dark space. I want to be political and historic about it, but fill it with love and warmth. What happened with me, very simply, I got in big trouble when I was around 11, though the boys are 12 in the movie, and the story is about my movement from the public education that I got into private school and a world of privilege. This film is about what that meant for me and how lucky I was, and how unlucky my friend was and about that break meant for me and what it meant for him.”
The Trump connection is “symbolic about what the school represented at the time, entrenched in this white protestant ethic,” and Gray’s own transition was when the “world really became clearly divided.” For fans, this rejigging of pet theme feels major: class and ethnicity are to Gray what, put simply, any prominent theme is to any prominent director—couching it in the current President’s home turf may just be using the same paint on a wider canvas.
Wild Bunch are representing Armageddon Time, which is introduced to buyers at this year’s Cannes (virtual) market.