Gomez, Nick: Indie Filmmaker (Laws of Gravity, New Jersey Drive, Illtown)

A terrifying nihilism, an out-of-control normlessness, mark Nick Gomez’s early indies.

Laws of Gravity (1992), his first and most emotionally effective picture, is a Brooklyn variation of Mean Streets. Tightly focused and intensely dramatized, it’s a bleak, hard-edged, ultrarealistic exploration of the reckless lives of small-time hooligans. Gomez’s down-and out characters are offsprings of Mean Streets’s Charlie and Johnny: Like them, they are too anarchic and dumb to get anywhere. They bluster or shout, unable to articulate any discernible emotion or mental activity.

New Jersey Drive

Gomez’s second effort, New Jersey Drive (1995), was also hyper-realistic in its depiction of black teenagers in Newark who jack cars for kicks. Focusing on the personal odyssey of one youngster, the film takes a hard look at the criminal justice system–the courts, probation officers, social workers, and even police. As an evocation of black youth, stuck living in a combat zone, New Jersey Drive is vibrant. Gomez creates a vivid portrait of street culture, but the film lacks a discernible point of view to make it more poignant dramatically.

Illtown

Illtown (1996), Gomez’s third and most experimental feature, came out of the dark place in which he found himself after losing control over New Jersey Drive. He told the Village Voice: “The mood and tempo of Illtown express what I felt like going into it. I had to make it to come out the other end. It was incredibly hard, but it was really satisfying working on a more intimate scale again.”

The intent was to go to Florida to make a “Hong Kong thriller,” but insufficient funds forced Gomez to take risks and be more daring. Indeed, the film’s radical form represents a stylistic antithesis to Laws of Gravity. It shows again Gomez’s attraction to outcasts and criminals, but this time, his haunting look at a Miami drug-dealing circle is staged in a dreamlike, hallucinatory manner, infused with the fatalistic noir notion of one’s inability to escape the past.

The stylistic influences of Japanese Renaissance man, Takeshi Kitano’s (Sonatine, Fireworks) and the Chinese ghost films are evident. The film’s dreamlike rhythm differs from the frantic pace of Laws of Gravity; here the pace is more reflective and calculated. Gomez transmutes genre conventions, combining formalism (the conclusion book-ends the beginning) with disjunctive editing that sometimes races, sometimes lingers leisurely and moodily. The mise-en-scene juxtaposes static compositions with Gomez’s trademark dynamically kinetic action sequences.