This motherfucking review first appeared on Talkbacker some years ago. I thought it was lost forever, but as I was digging through my hard drive trying to erase evidence before the cops knock on my door, I found this one languishing in neglect. This movie should not be neglected.
Laws of Gravity, the 1992 film directed by Nick Gomez, takes place in a decaying, pre-hipster Brooklyn. It follows the mundane lives of petty criminals and fringe dwellers. By day they steal goods out of cars, vans and five and dime stores. They then haggle about price points over the stolen property with the local Fence. After they receive their pittance, they retreat to one of their apartments and drink and talk and yell at each other. At night they shuffle off to their favorite dive bar, where everyone knows their shame. They drink some more and sometimes fight with the other tough guys. They brawl over money, respect and non-existent girlfriends.
Peter Greene (Clean, Shaven) plays Jimmy. He is married to Denise, played nicely by Edie Falco of The Sopranos fame. Compared to the rest of denizens of the neighborhood, they are two of the more responsible ones. Denise holds a job at the bar and at least Jimmy has the social skills to be offered a job taking out garbage at the Javitz Center by the hulking Sal. He is Jimmy’s friend and we also know that he does something that is not quite legal. Jimmy owes Sal money. Sal sounds like a disappointed father as he constantly reminds Jimmy of this throughout the movie.
Adam Trese (Palookaville) plays Johnny. If Christian Bale had any hoodlum cousins they would probably look like him. Johnny is short on brains and long on tough guy talk. He always seems to be up for slapping his pretty girlfriend, Celia, around. When other men slap Celia around, however, Johnny is driven into a furious rage to protect his property. It is good to see that the mean streets of Brooklyn do not scare chivalry away.
One day Frankie pulls up to Johnny and Jimmy as they wander the streets in search of stuff to steal. Frankie has just been released from prison down south and he comes back to the old stomping ground in a stolen car filled with a healthy assortment of handguns. The three men see their fortunes in the chrome and steel and magazines filled with bullets. Guns pay a lot more than a ghetto blaster, plucked from the backseat of an open car.
Paul Schulze (Nurse Jackie) is great in the role of Frankie. We all might have known someone like him. Frankie is the type of guy that you might have been afraid of him as your friend, but you were a lot more scared of him if he wasn’t someone that liked you. He is the type of guy that would start a barroom brawl and expect all his buddies to put down their drinks, kiss their dates goodbye, and jump into the fray with him. Frankie is the dude that always demands respect, never realizing that it has to be earned.
When Frankie smiles his eyes become like coin slots on a vending machine, never letting anyone see the darkness in his soul. There is a great scene between Schulze and Edie Falco when Frankie is crashed out on the couch and Denise comes home from work. We can tell there is history between the two and that it probably isn’t all pleasant. Their conversation is cordial but forced. Frankie begins to feel like he is being questioned. They punctuate their sentences with the other’s name. This is not done out of affection, but scorn. They are throwing down the gauntlet.
Watching this film the audience feels like it is watching a documentary. Conversations seem real. People talk over one another, words are repeated, thoughts can be cut off by someone else’s more aggressive lingo. Words stumble and stutter as they exit angry mouths. The audience can not picture these actors rehearsing the dialogue on some soundstage prior to filming. It all seems too alarmingly real.
The handheld camera work is great. The audience is almost like one of these people hanging on the street corner, drinking from forty ounce beer bottles and using harsh language as they philosophically discuss their existence. Violence often happens in the corner of the camera’s eye, so we don’t get a clear view of what is happening. We learn what goes down from the second hand information of people screaming and reporting the situation to each other.
This is a low budget movie so it has a raw look to it. This adds to the gritty realism that Gomez was most likely shooting for. I also like the title, Laws of Gravity. It sounds sufficiently grandiose in that indie film, or album kind of way. I highly recommend it.