Laws of Gravity
1992, R, 100 min. Directed by Nick Gomez. Starring Peter Greene, Edie Falco, Adam Trese, Arabella Field, Paul Schulze, Saul Stein.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Dec. 11, 1992
If you introduce a gun in the first act, it's certain to go off by the third. That's one of the classic rules of playwriting/scriptwriting; as inexorable as the laws of gravity. So, early on in this movie when small-time thieves Jimmy (Greene) and Jonny (Trese) meet up with a cache of guns, you can predict how it's all going to end. But that's hardly the point of Laws of Gravity. What happens is not as important as how and why. The narrative inevitability of gunplay only adds a growing sense of dread to the proceedings because we've come to like these two-bit Brooklyn hustlers, gotten to know their wives and girlfriends, recognize their youthful oblivion of mortality. They're real neighborhood guys just looking to get by with their petty scores; no big dreams of getting out or becoming top dogs (after all, these are the same Brooklyn streets that spurred Tony Manero into a Saturday Night Fever). Jimmy's the fixer-upper, the negotiator, good husband and older brother figure to hothead Jonny. But for all his imagined skill, Jimmy, himself, is out on probation, in deep to a loan shark and shoplifts undesirable products. The real beauty of Laws of Gravity lies in its characterizations. These are performances that are close to the bone, remarkably free of artifice and the world of pretend. That's no small accomplishment in a low-budget ($38,000) independent movie like this one, shot mostly with available light on a cramped 12-day production schedule with a first-time director. Laws of Gravity smartly uses its financial constrictions as aesthetic constructions. Most noticeable is its hand-held camerawork by Jean de Segonzac, which eyeballs these characters with its constant gaze, always in motion, always immediate, always engaged. Instead of fancy edits and processed transitions, sequences cut to black at their conclusion lending a further sense of immediacy and present tense. The cutting begins to take on its own kind of logic and progression, exiting before the scene's conclusion, blacking out just at the point you want to learn more, building a dynamic tension. In a year that's been memorable for the amount of stunning new films by first-time directors, Laws of Gravity is remarkable even by those standards. Gomez uses his financial limitations to his stylistic advantage and plumbs the extraordinary performances to create enduring character studies.