Laws of Gravity, the low-budget 1992 film written and directed by Nick Gomez, takes place in a decaying, pre-hipster Brooklyn. These streets are harsh. There are greater dangers lurking here than a ripped Patagonia vest, or brash Trump supporter wandering into a coffee house sporting a MAGA cap. The view of Manhattan is expensive, but the shady, broken down characters slogging along cracked sidewalks are all low rent.
Gomez’s film follows the mundane lives of petty criminals and fringe dwellers. By day they boost trinkets out of cars, vans and discount stores. They then haggle over price points of the stolen property with the local fence on the street corner. There always seems to be an audience of ne’er do wells, drinking liquor and egging the muckafergusons on to start shoving. It was tough to get cable television in Brooklyn, so a black eye and bloody nose might be the only entertainment they could afford to watch on the angry avenue.
After the thieves 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 a rambunctious watering hole, where everyone knows their shame. They drink some more and fight with the other tough guys. They brawl over loose change, respect and women. At least they don’t seem to discuss religion or politics there, or this movie might have had the body count of a cheapjack horror flick, instead of being one of the best independent films of the nineties.
The charismatic Peter Greene, from Clean, Shaven is Jimmy. He is married to Denise, portrayed by the talented Edie Falco. Falco became a household name playing the draining wife of gangster thug Tony Soprano. With her shrill New Jersey accent and manicured nails, she terrorized her husband, possibly giving the beefy murderer empathy for the bozos he beat down in back alleys and grimey men’s rooms. Here she plays a much more supportive wife, congratulating Jimmy on the meager earnings from one of his crimes.
Compared to many of the denizens in their hood, Jimmy and Denise are two of the more responsible ones. Denise holds a job at the bar and Jimmy has the social skills to be offered a job taking out garbage at the Javitz center by the hulking Sal. Saul Stein plays Sal with a kind of friendly intimidation, using his massive body to back up his words. He is Jimmy’s buddy and we also know that Sal does something that isn’t quite legal. Jimmy owes Sal money and is constantly chided about this throughout the movie, sometimes with a derisive comment or a friendly punch in the arm. Sal’s hands are the size of anvils, so I am sure these friendly reminders left Jimmy welts that required a cold beer to dull the throbbing pain.
Adam Trese(Palookaville) plays Johnny. He has the physical appearance of a dopey, American Christian Bale with awful fashion sense. Johnny is short on brains and long on tough guy talk. He always seems to be up for slapping his beautiful girlfriend, Celia(Arabella Field), around. When other dudes slap Celia around, however, Johnny is driven into a furious rage to protect his property. It is good to see that chivalry made it over the bridge from Manhattan to the turbulent streets of Brooklyn in this film. That traffic can be a bitch and a girl could get roughed up if her abusive man isn’t around to protect her.
One day Frankie rolls up to Johnny and Jimmy as they wander the streets in search of some more useless shit to steal. We learn that Frankie has just been released from prison down south and he came back to the old stomping grounds in a stolen car filled with a healthy assortment of handguns and ammo. The audience has got to be figuring that the crew would have been better off if Frankie had stolen some apple pies or transistor radios to sell. The three men see their fortunes emblazoned in the chrome and steel and magazines and boxes filled with bullets. Guns pay much more than a ghetto blaster that has been plucked from the backseat of an unlocked car.
Paul Schulze, recently seen as a sinister bureaucrat in The Punisher, is excellent in the role of Frankie. We all might have known someone like him. Frankie is the type of guy that you were leery of if he was your friend. And if you weren’t down with him, you would most likely move tables if he sat down near you at the local watering hole. Or, better yet, move to Long Island. He is the dude that would start a barroom brawl and expect all his drinking buddies to put down their beers, kiss their dates goodbye, and jump into the fray with him. Frankie is that guy that always demands respect, never realizing it has to be earned. You always wanted to be in another town when a friend like Frankie goes down. When punks like that fall, they take half the room with them.
When Frankie smiles his eyes become like coin slots on a vending machine, shutting the blinds so no one can see the oily darkness in his soul. There is a great scene between Schulze and Falco, when Frankie is crashed out on the couch at Denise and Jimmy’s and she comes home from a long night of pouring drinks for loud slobs. We can tell that there is history between them and that it isn’t all pleasant. Their conversation is cordial, but forced. Frankie begins to feel like he is being interrogated. 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 Laws of Gravity, the audience feels like it is watching a documentary about life on the fringes of normalcy. Conversations are messy. People talk over one another, words are repeated, thoughts cut off by someone else’s more aggressive lingo. Ideas stumble and stutter as they exit angry, or with a slight buzz. It is tough to envision this dialogue typed out on paper. I can’t picture these actors, all wonderful in their roles, rehearsing their lines, seated at a long table, drinking coffee and eating donuts.
It all seems too alarmingly real.
The handheld camera work is harsh and involving. The audience becomes one of these people hanging on the street corner, drinking liquor wrapped in paper bags, using foul language as they philosophically discuss their next moves. Violence often occurs in the corner of the unblinking eye of the lens, so we don’t get a clear shot of what is happening. We learn what went down from the secondhand information of people screaming and profanely reporting the situation to each other.
This is a great flick. I highly recommend it. Brooklyn hipsters should give it a look to see how harsh the landscape was before they arrived. The younger generation never realizes how good they have it and how soft they have become. For fuck’s sake, hipster dudes are still wearing wool caps and scarves in June. Not sure how that would have flown on the streets in Laws of Gravity.