US, 1980: 12-year-old Paul Graff lives with his parents and brother Ted in Queens, a New York neighbourhood. He is in the last grade of primary school, but school does not really interest him. He loves drawing and dreams of making a living from his art later. His parents see little point in this, but his grandfather Aaron, a man of Jewish-Ukrainian descent, encourages him to pursue that dream. Meanwhile, at school, he has become close friends with a black fellow pupil, Johnny. Remarkably, when the two have been up to mischief, Johnny is always punished more severely than Paul by the teacher.
As in James Gray's earlier films Little Odessa and The Immigrant, the theme of immigration also plays an important role in Armageddon Time. Gray not only links this to an autobiographical coming-of-age story, he also shows where things went wrong in the US during that time, the Reagan era. With Banks Repeta and Anthony Hopkins, among others.