In this assignment, you’ll learn how to begin to organize and outline your ideas so that you can write your Film Research and Analysis on a film set in New York City.

This process will draw on several of the exercises we’ve done throughout the semester:

For this example, I am using the 1992 film Laws of Gravity, directed by Nick Gomez. We will watch this in class. It is also available for you to watch on CUNY OneDrive.

I recommend that you this as a model for crafting your own outline. Think of these as your notes as you write you essay, based on your own outline. You can review my own sample outline.

Summarize the Film

In this part of the process, I summarize the plot of the film in neutral terms so that someone understands what happens in this film.

Set in Greenpoint and Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York, Laws of Gravity (1992) follows a few days in the lives of Jimmy and Jon. The two young men engage in small-time criminal activity, such as shoplifting and fencing, but quickly escalate to arms dealing when their friend Frankie returns from Miami with a cache of guns. Jimmy and Jon each have women in their lives: Jimmy is married to Denise, and Jon seems to have an on-again–off-again fling with Celia, who tolerate their criminal activity but are frequently burdened their decisions. After Jon takes the guns from Frankie, selling through a neighborhood grocery store owner, Frankie seeks out Jon to exact revenge. The conflict erupts outside a neighborhood bar and ends fatally for Jon.

Evaluate the Film

In this part of the process, I will think about the meaning of the film. This is somewhat subjective to my own interpretation, but it should be something that is a consistent theme of the film, expressed throughout the film.

Note that the three flaws I listed all start with the letter “p.” Yes, I like alliteration.

Laws of Gravity presents the two main characters, Jimmy and Jon, as men who make really bad decisions. They refused to work “straight” jobs, such as hauling garbage at Javits Convention Center, seeing those as beneath their station, but readily engage in petty crimes such as shoplifting and fencing.

Of the two, Jon demonstrates the three flaws: his pride, his propensity for violence, and his poor decision making. He is often baited into fights and quickly becomes physically violent after even smallest insult. Jon exhibits this violent tempter when, it seems, that someone challenges his manhood. It is this pride that escalates his poor decision making, ends in his death after going after Frankie. If Jon could think rationally, he would have known to escape. After all, he did steal the guns from Frankie and was warned that Frankie is armed and looking for Jon.

Shot in Sequence Analysis

For this part of the process, I will think about three sequences that support my evaluation of the film. Instead of doing a shot analysis chart, which you are free to do to help you see things, I will describe what I see and hear in each of these sequences.

There are three sequences that demonstrate Jon’s masculine pride, his propensity for violence, and his poor decision making. All three flaws ultimately result in his death.

Jon Skips Court on a Minor Shoplifting Charge

Watch the sequence on CUNY OneDrive

This sequence spans two settings. The first is outside where we see Celia tease and taunt Jon for not going to court, admonishing that he’s bound for the “bus to Riker’s Island jail.” The second setting inside an apartment where we see Denise, Jimmy’s wife.

The two women challenge Jon about his decision not to go to court. The handheld camera focuses on the two women who list out the various steps of Jon getting arrested and taken to jail. Offscreen, we hear Jon laugh and deny that anything is going to happen to him, telling Denise and Celia, “oh you’re funny.” The women retort, “this is not funny, Jonnie.” Jon doesn’t realize the consequences of his actions.

Jon Gets Arrested for Accosting Celia

Watch the sequence on CUNY OneDrive

In this scene, Celia is walking on the street with another woman. The camera catches Jon walking in the background towards them. Jon demands that Celia talk to him, after he hit her at a neighborhood picnic in an earlier scene. Celia doesn’t want to talk but Jon insists and becomes increasingly violent. Jon gets in between our view and the two women, and he continues to push Celia’s friend out of the way.

After a couple of jump cuts, Jimmy and Denise each arrive on the scene to help Celia, and Jimmy physically restrains Jon. As the conflict escalates, two undercover police officers arrive on the scene and arrest Jon. They wrestle Jon to the ground, we hear one of the women screaming. As they handcuff Johnny, the screen goes black.

Jon Goes after Frankie at the Bar

Watch the sequence on CUNY OneDrive

After an earlier hand-to-hand fight with Frankie at the bar, Jon talks with Jimmy in the bathroom where Jon tells Jimmy he doesn’t need his help. Denise knocks on the bathroom door and tells him that Frankie is outside the bar and carrying a gun.

There’s a cut to outside the bar, where Frankie pleads with a few of the patrons to let him inside “to talk” to Jon. As the conflict outside escalates, Jon overpowers Jimmy and escapes outside. It is there where he confronts Frankie.

Jon and Frankie are each restrained by a group of men, but Jon breaks through and goes towards Frankie. The onscreen image focuses on the men who couldn’t hold Jon, and we hear two gunshots offscreen. The people in the crowd either drop to the ground or run away. The image goes black before we hear a woman’s screams, recalling the earlier scene where Jon gets arrested by the undercover cops.

Formal Analysis

In this part of the process, I list two formal elements that I think help convey the message of the film that I addressed in my evaluation (written above). For the sake of brevity, I didn’t describe with details from the sequences.

The film uses two formal elements throughout the film—and in the sequences above—to convey Jon’s major character flaws.


The first formal element is cinematography. The camerawork in this film is one of the most notable features. The camera is handheld and follows the characters, as if shooting a documentary, not a carefully staged narrative, fiction film. As the camera shows Jon, he is never standing still, much like the camera is always moving. In these scenes, we can see how Jon’s constant motion represents his quickness to act, especially without thinking.


The second formal element is sound. The sound in this film records only diegetic sounds. We hear dialogue, we hear music from the scene, and we hear sound effects typical of a crime film, such as gunshots and police sirens. Throughout the film, Jon’s voice constantly interrupts others talking. This suggests that Jon just won’t listen, and I mean that in both senses of the word. He will not take anyone’s advice and just does what his impulsive and aggressive behavior pushes him to do.

Primary and Secondary Sources

In this part of the process, I incorporate the writings of others to show how my essay is in conversation with their evaluation of this film. I will find a quote or two from the sources and incorporate them into my own writing and analysis.

Primary Source

  • Vincent Canby, “Shabby Lives in Brooklyn, with Camera Looking on.” New York Times, Mar 21, 1992, from the New York Times

In his New York Times, review of the film, Vincent Canby notes the men’s violent behavior throughout the film. He writes, “the coming together of any two or more of Mr. Gomez’s characters sooner or later leads to a physical confrontation.” Canby describes the violent propensities of Jimmy, Jon, and their neighborhood friends: “The fights they so readily invite somehow reassure them. The fights give them identity, importance and a momentary sense of direction.”

Secondary Source

Although the source itself is technically a secondary source, most of this article references an interview done with the Laws of Gravity director Nick Gomez. Looking back at the interview, Macaulay notes that he was surprised to find how much the budget of the film dictated the look of it.

In the interview, Gomez notes that a small budget benefitted the style of the film: “We had a style in mind and one of the things that allowed us to fully embellish that style was the fact that the style made complete and perfect economic sense. I had in mind a style that approached a certain vérité feeling, a certain kind of immediacy.”

This “immediacy” in many scenes throughout the film, especially those when Jon loses his temper, feels like a fuse has been lit. It’s just going to be a matter of time before something exploded. In Jon’s case, something often does.

Cultural Meaning of the Film

In this part of the process, I consider some of the cultural aspects of the film. For the sake of illustrating this process, I will consider three, but it’s not necessary to include all of these in your essay.

Representation of Gender

Although most cultural analyses of gender representation focus on women, I will focus on the film’s representation of the men in this film, particularly their masculine pride, their propensity for violence, and their poor decision making. All of the men in this film exhibit these character flaws, as Vincent Canby notes in his 1992 review of the film, when the men get into fights that “give them identity, importance and a momentary sense of direction.” Of all the men in the film, Jon exhibits these flaws to the greatest degree, and it ultimately ends in his death.


This film is a crime film that details the criminal activity of the men in the neighborhood, particularly Jimmy and Jon. But their score of a cache of guns is doomed from the start. These men are not smart enough or organized enough to sell the guns. In a scene with the grocery store owner, Jimmy and Jon reveal that they don’t know the value of the guns. What this film shows is not a glorification of crime. It shows that, no matter whatever street smarts they have, Jimmy and Jon can’t fight the laws of gravity like they fight someone else. They will fall.

Social History

This is a film about the ordinariness of New York City. It does not feature any shots of the icons that we see in other New York City films. There are no sweeping aerial views of the Statue of Liberty, the Manhattan skyline, or even any bridges of the East River that connect Manhattan to Brooklyn, where this film takes place.

As a representation of New York, Laws of Gravity is a counterpoint to how the city was overwhelmed with crime in the early 1990s. The criminals in this film are not well-funded masterminds, such as the ones we see in King of New York. Nor are they mass murders. Everyone in this film is unremarkable. This film depicts petty and fumbling criminals who live in low-rise railroad apartments of a working-class urban neighborhood. In New York, they’re everywhere. The film does not show many cops because these criminals are so ordinary and the justice system doesn’t even notice them.


Now that I have organized my research and analysis of the film above, I have everything I need for my essay. It’s now time to order my research and analysis into an outline. This should act like a checklist for your own essay.

See my sample outline for my essay, “Fatal Masculinity in Laws of Gravity (1992).”