In 10 Words or Less
Like Rashômon...but not even close
At its core, 3 Steps to Heaven is a murder mystery, but how it goes about solving that mystery makes it a bit harder to categorize. Sean, our heroine's boyfriend, drowns in a river, and when she discovers he spent the previous night with three famous people, she hunts them down to find out the truth. Unfortunately, each member of the trio seems to be able to provide only part of the story. They're also rather unlucky, which makes her task all the more difficult.
Far from the usual movie-star female, star Katrin Cartlidge has a look that's similar to that of a Greek whore, or perhaps Eastern European street trash. Plain and somewhat undesirable, she is perfect in the role of a woman who really has no idea what she's doing. As she holds a gun, shaking and misfiring, she has the part of an amateur private dick down cold. The film makes sure to point this fact out early and often, including a pretty funny bit in the elevator that's unexpected and sets the tone for the rest of her quest. Her self-confidence increases as she moves forward, but the tics remain, making for a fully realistic revenge-driven performance.
The three witnesses, a real-estate mogul with a "Scarface" complex, a politician with a potentially damning secret and a TV star partying past her age, make for some interesting confrontations, though they're each more annoying than the last. It would seem like being able to empathize with these three would make the girlfriend's efforts more complex, but instead, you almost want them to be off'd. Throw in the problem with the heroine's motivation (the problem being a relative lack of said motivation), and one doesn't know who to root for. Though a good anti-hero is welcome any day around these parts, a pointless set of killings doesn't help anyone.
Though it sounds like the plot would make for a hard-boiled crime story, the film is actually loaded with dark comedy, as each witness' world is loaded to the brim with ridiculousness. A ballet-practicing enforcer, a gimp-friendly basement dungeon and a goofy shoot-out try to bring a light touch to some heavy material. Unfortunately, these touches seem out of place in comparison to the heavier aspects of the movie. Similarly, attempts to ratchet up the drama or emotion, like a sex scene between the girl, Sean and herself, fall flat thanks to scenes that don't fit being butted up against each other.
Though a British TV movie, the film looks better than your usual network fare, as director Constantine Giannaris actually beat Trainspotting to the punch, creating movie energy with fast edits, interesting camera movement and other similar creative touches a year earlier than the drug hit. Today though, the techniques seem almost old-hat. That doesn't mean they don't work. One scene has four characters, but only one is actually speaking live on-screen, with the television and answering machine forming the sides of the dialogue triangle. It's an innovative use of voiceover, especially for an older film.
It took almost 10 years, but 3 Steps to Heaven arrives on U.S. shores in a one-disc released, packed in a standard keepcase with an insert listing the chapter stops. The menus, done in static anamorphic widescreen, have a London theme that is as different as art could be from the cover of the DVD case. They look like two different movies. Options include scene selection, captions and subtitles and play movie. Captions and subtitles options include English for the Hearing Impared, French and Spanish. The scene selection menus feature still previews and titles for each scene.
A heavily "designed" film, the look is as important as anything else in 3 Steps, which makes the DVD presentation key. For the most part, the anamorphic widescreen video looks good, though there's some occasional dirt and damage. Some grain is evident as well, but it's not in any way distracting. Colors are good, though slightly red, while the detail level suffers slightly from a softness in the transfer. A decent transfer for a 10-year-old independent foreign film. The audio is better, though only a Dolby 2.0 mix. The center channel carries the show, but a better-than-expected amount of activity can be heard in the surround field. The music is especially active.
As is the case with most Miramax catalog releases, there are no extras on this DVD. Two trailers, Finding Neverland and Miramax 25th Anniversary, are found at the beginning of the DVD, but the Neverland preview can be skipped with the menu button.
The Bottom Line
I will admit, I'm kind of stuck on the cover art. I hate to see cover art that's such blatant false advertising. But I'll try and move on.... The movie itself is stylish and rarely does it get boring, but once the concept is established, it becomes a waiting game. You know that the story can't end till all the players get their turn at bat. While some might find the gratuitous (and frequent) nudity to be a worthy distraction while sitting in this film's waiting room, its not enough to help you ignore the fact that the story isn't exactly what one would term "deep." A barebones release, it would be difficult to recommend more than a rental for 3 Steps. It feels like once you get all the "surprises," there's not much left to sustain interest.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.