Thursday, January 8, 2009

Recent Netflixing (Not Really 'Cuz I Own This on VHS Beeyotch!) - Laws of Gravity

"Mucka ferguson."

I don't even think it's out on DVD yet, and considering the budget and the quality of stock it's not really necessary (did I catch a boom in a shot?). I revisited this Brooklyn gem, from then first-time director Nick Gomez and featuring wonderful early performances from Edie Falco, Peter Greene (who I haven't seen in a WHILE) and Arabella Field (her first feature performance I think).

Adam Trese, who plays Jonny (similar to DeNiro's Johnny in Mean Streets, but in a more cutesy, baby-faced, modern version) has continued acting as well, but is also a successful real estate agent as well at Halstead! From his lips came one of the most ingenious non-profanity laced insults I've heard, which is why I started this post with it.

Gomez has since gone on to a very successful career as a TV director with shows like Brotherhood and earlier hits like Homicide: Life on the Street, after started off with 3 features (Laws of Gravity, New Jersey Drive, Illtown).

Whenever I see Edie Falco, I really take myself back always to this film. It was one of the first films I ever bought, on VHS, right after Reservoir Dogs and a couple of John Woo movies. I had never heard of it but I was intrigued as it seemed like a modern day Mean Streets.

What surprises me about the film, considering it was made 16 years ago now, is not only is it documentary and realistic in feel, but it's down to earth. The drama is not forced, and the dialogue consists of lots of subtle shifts and hints that never are told, always shown. At the same time, it's a very straightforward movie: Jimmy (Greene) and Jonny (Trese) and their respective ladies Denise and Celia (Falco and Field) are Brooklynites where the men don't work but steal and hustle, and the women work late at jobs that can't afford much more than some beers and a bed. One of the great quotes, as character actor Paul Schulze's (24, Sopranos) Frankie asks about cable, Jimmy goes, "Nah we don't have cable, this is Brooklyn". Another great moment is when Jimmy relights an almost fully smoked cigarette bud to grab a couple extra drags. There's such a great street sense in this film; even though the tough guys have beefs sometimes, they have no problem either expressing it violently while still coming in constant contact with each other because it's a community here.

Sal (Saul Stein) is the local loan shark/muscle and Frankie is back from Florida under shady circumstances to sell guns and evade questions about being a rat. Jonny's temper gets the best of him EVERY time. In the middle of it all, Jimmy owes people here and there and isn't quite peaceful, but overall is the moderator of the whole sh-bang. The film does a great job in grabbing a sense of desperation, the sense that there are not a lot of resources for these characters to live on. Everything is driven by the characters' tempers, and the movie ebbs and flows on that, not on any coincidences or contrivances. The camera roams verite style and never veers or strays too far, giving everything a claustrophobic, intimate feel. The style is classic and showed cinematographer Jean de Segonzac's potential as a lenser for Law & Order and other TV series as recent as New York's Gossip Girl. The daily hustles that the men go through are both necessary for them to exist but stem totally from an antisocial mindset. And the performances are really top notch.

Greene actually makes for an interesting leading man; a heel in The Usual Suspects, Pulp Fiction, and The Mask, among other films, he has a calming presence and when he rages, it's of a righteous quality. His soft spoken nature and sleepy eyes get you behind him as he moves and shakes through the little world they have going. Trese makes good use of all the blow ups and tantrums; his lazy mouthed stare belies the anger-at-any-moment nature of his character and is fun to watch.

Falco shows you that she's going to be a force in the material she works on later in her career; a natural sarcasm flows out of her and she's the voice of reason in all of this. Field's tragic character, getting stomped on by Jonny, yet coming back to him out of pure love but almost destructively confrontational, has an interesting vocal rhythm and it brings flavor to the role in a movie centered on the men.

Each scene tends to have its own situational banter and at the same time works toward the overall story. It's that kind of down to earth feel that makes this film a winner. There are no artsy shots; no time for that. The dialogue flys around (people talk at the same time, oh Altman) and it breathes and brims. Shot in 12 days for less than 40k, you couldn't ask for a better hour and a half.

The bar where they filmed at was the Ship's Mast Pub (link to NY Times article) on North 5th in Williamsburg, which was shut down not too long after they filmed; John Gallagher, the owner, plays Bobby the bartender in the film. The rest of the film was shot in Greenpoint; it's great to see the difference then and now, especially considering that Williamsburg has evolved into something completely different from the rest of Brooklyn and at the time was still like many now upscaling 'hoods like parts of Park Slope, etc. suffering from lots of crime and social unrest.

One note: Bill Sage has an extremely small part as a friend of a harrassed patron at the bar. Turns out he has gone on to a serious TV and film career with recent stints on the short lived Cashmere Mafia.

Laws of Gravity was nominated for 4 Independent Spirit Awards including Best First Feature, Best Actress, Best Actor, and Best Cinematography. Gomez won the Wolfgang Staudte Award at the Berlin Film Festival in 1993 for this as well.

I love this movie; if you really want to see some great footage of a bygone Brooklyn, check this out.

Laws of Gravity on IMDb

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