Laws of Gravity - Jimmy & Jon

Low-budget independent movies were becoming increasingly big news in the early 1990s. Inspired by sex, lies and videotape and Slacker, a new generation of independent filmmaking talent began to trickle out, their work showered with plaudits and picked up by respected distribution companies.

This conveyor belt of talent included Tom Kalin (Swoon); Hal Hartley (Trust & Simple Men); Carl Franklin (One False Move); Tom DiCillo (Johnny Suede); Alexandre Rockwell (In the Soup) and, of course Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs).

Set in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint district, Laws of Gravity was another example of this trend. I saw it just after it had debuted in Britain at the Edinburgh Film Festival and thought it might just make a breakthrough of sorts. At any rate the career of its Boston born director Nick Gomez was obviously one to keep a close eye on.

Laws of Gravity and Reservoir Dogs were the two independents that stood out for me around this time and I penned gushing reviews of both a few years later for a fanzine that called it a day a matter of only weeks after its one and only issue was printed up and then just about universally ignored. I can’t find my copy anywhere, which is maybe be a blessing in disguise. I might have been just too gushing.

Much was made at the time of the fact that Laws of Gravity was made on an ultra-low budget. A figure of $38,000 was bandied around, albeit this rose significantly when the movie was blown up from 16mm to 35mm for festival screenings and its theatrical release. Even then, compared to big Hollywood studio standards, the film still cost peanuts. Soon it would become almost a badge of honour to have maxed out your credit cards, participated in medical testing studies and stopped eating for several months in order to get your film made on the paltriest sum imaginable.

After editing Hartley’s Trust – where Edie Falco (The Sopranos) earned an early role – Nick Gomez decided he wanted to write and direct. As part of filmmaking collective the Shooting Gallery, he penned a script for Laws of Gravity within three weeks but used this only as a blueprint.

Laws of Gravity - Jimmy & Denise

He utilised actors he already knew like Edie Falco (as Jimmy’s girlfriend Denise) and Adam Trese and gathered them together, rehearsing extensively, letting them immerse themselves thoroughly into their parts. Before too long, he was on the streets shooting his film – which he did in only twelve days.

This is the story of two twenty-something mooks, told over the course of three days. Jimmy (Peter Greene) and Jon (Adam Trese) hang around on street corners, flogging off stolen goods like ghetto-blasters for whatever they can get. Their lives are directionless. Jimmy owes money and is on probation. Jon thinks its a clever idea to skip a court hearing.

The macho bravado displayed by the pair is shared by just about every guy here and repeatedly spills over into violence, usually in a local Irish bar where Jimmy and Jon like to hang out.

Jimmy has opportunities but he refuses legit employment. The nearest he gets to a job is looking after Jon, this being pretty much a full-time occupation. He tries to advise Jon and sort out the problems that Jon inevitably finds himself in because, as he puts it, he’s ‘more diplomatic’.

Not that he’s any kind of Kofi Annan figure, though.

Jon, who resembles a smaller Christian Bale, has one thing going for him, Celia, his long-suffering girlfriend (Arabella Field). Not that he remotely appreciates her, slapping her around repeatedly, even in front of pals like Jimmy.

When an old pal Frankie (Paul Schulze), returns from Florida with a trunkful of firearms in his stolen car and tries to interest Jimmy and Jon in them, viewers should pretty much sense how the film will end.

Let’s just say that testosterone levels rise even further.

Laws of Gravity - Jimmy & Jon with guns

A visit to neighbouring Williamsburg (when it housed more Hispanics than Hipsters) almost escalates into real trouble. It’s avoided this time round but you sense that this is only a temporary reprieve.

It’s a gripping ninety minutes albeit uncomfortably close to Mean Streets – Jon is even referred to as Johnny Boy at one point. During an interview with Hal Hartley just after the film’s release, Gomez went as far to speak about sampling Scorsese. Many critics resented this aspect of Laws of Gravity but the action comes more from the earlier life of the young director than from Scorsese’s breakthrough hit.

Like Mean Streets, the hand-held camerawork gives the film a terrific sense of immediacy. From its opening shots of Jimmy waking up the acting is remarkably naturalistic. It almost feels like you’re watching real people rather than actors.

The dialogue might lack the flash and rapid-fire pop culture zing of Tarantino’s debut but it’s equally effective, working especially well when the actors simultaneously blurt out dialogue in a manner that suggests it’s been improvised.

Greene is especially good, portraying Jimmy perfectly, at the end of his tether with Jon but determined to ensure that he does what he thinks is the right thing out of his misguided sense of loyalty. I’m guessing Tarantino was impressed too. He cast Peter Greene as Zed in Pulp Fiction and a line from The Gold Watch sequence of that movie gave the aforementioned fanzine its name – Zed’s Dead, Baby.

Despite predicting that Greene was really going places, this somehow never quite happened although he’s appeared in a long list of films and TV dramas since. Few of these have been as good as Laws of Gravity although Clean Shaven features a wonderfully intense performance from him that demonstrates his talent to the fullest.

Laws of Gravity isn’t Citizen Kane or Chinatown but, along with One False Move, it is one of the most under-rated indies of the 1990s.