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3 Steps to Heaven Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 February 2005

3 Steps to Heaven

Miramax Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: R
starring: Katrin Cartlidge, Frances Barber, James Fleet, Con O’Neill, David Cardy, Paul-Mark Elliot, Stuart Laing
film release year: 1995
DVD release year: 2005
film rating: One-Half Star
sound/picture: One-and-a-Half Stars
reviewed by: Paul Lingas

The title “3 Steps to Heaven” belies the fact that the film is such a mess; heaven is not going to be the final end point. At once failing as noir, psychosexual thriller and amateur detective story, the film never gets its feet underneath it and the result is 90 minutes of viewing frustration over a hackneyed plot that contains some of the most overly used and unoriginal ideas in independent film. The film is fairly devoid of anything approaching subtlety. The main actress is shown lounging around in her underwear all the time and often the characters do things for no apparent reason. Most of the characters inhabit a world of cliché, made all the more obvious by the way the film was shot, with far too many time-lapse shots of London.

“3 Steps to Heaven” was originally made through the British Film Institute in 1995 and, apart from a few festivals, it didn’t find a theatrical premiere until 1997 in Argentina. Now, eight years after that, it has been snapped up in the hopes that someone can get some money out of it. Told in a sort of poor “Rashomon” style of alternating flashbacks, “3 Steps to Heaven” surrounds the quest of Suzanne (Katrin Cartlidge) to find out what happened to her obscure boyfriend Sean (Stuart Laing), who drowned under suspicious circumstances. Suzanne decides to pursue the truth by tracking down and ineffectively threatening the last three people to see him alive. How Suzanne knows about these three people is never explained and just what her relationship is to them before she confronts them is vague at best. Each of the three people are having their own personal problems and Suzanne seems to observe them in an odd voyeuristic way. She pulls a gun on each one and two end up dying, though through no direct fault of Suzanne’s. Angel (Con O’Neill), an unsavory character, is killed by a pair of ballet-dancing gangsters (yes, ballet, in one of the most ridiculous fight scenes ever created). Harry (James Fleet), a politician in the midst of a gay sex scandal, accidentally kills himself while tied up in S&M leather. Andrea (Frances Barber), an over-the-hill, chain-smoking television personality, is frightened out of her wits after briefly turning the tables on Suzanne and finally explains the demise of Sean Scooby-Doo style. Suzanne is the quintessential poorly-drawn character, in that though she tries to instigate action, she is mostly just a foolish observer and really doesn’t ever end up actually doing anything, apart from walking around in her underwear and thinking about her dead lover; the performance actually never really suggests anything bordering on love between Suzanne and Sean, more of a frantic lust. In fact, there is so little shown about their relationship that we have a hard time understanding just why Sean meant so much to Suzanne.

A lot of things happen in “3 Steps to Heaven,” but they are approached in such a lazy and disjointed way that there is little through-line to the narrative in terms of directorial cohesion. The film as a whole feels like a string of vignettes. Guns, drugs, knives, sex, violence and more of the usual rigmarole fills the screen, but without any understanding of just who these characters are, there’s no reason to care about them and all their activities come across as an exercise in making a low-budget thriller that feels like a long student film with marginally better production value. There’s some terrible acting as well. Everyone’s mobile phones keep going off, as if writer/director Constantine Giannaris is making some sort of commentary about modern communications without ever actually saying anything about it. The bad guys are completely clichéd and have some of the worst movie hair I’ve ever seen. Too many of the events and stylistic machinations are trite and seem poorly copied from other films. In the end, all we have is a bunch of people going through the motions with little to no emotional or psychological impact whatsoever.

There are no bonus features on this Miramax issuing of what was originally a made-for-TV movie. The transfer is sharp for a 10-year-old film, but it really only serves to reveal the limitations in cinematographic skill and overall budget that marked the production. For example, there are several low-light scenes where the film is disappointingly grainy. A good transfer can never replace or enhance what was never captured by the camera in the first place and it certainly doesn’t here. Though the aspect ratio is labeled as 1.85:1, it seems less than that, somewhere around the HD 1.77:1. The Dolby stereo sound mix is pedestrian and more or less gives us the simple sound design and poor dialogue mixing of the film.

“3 Steps to Heaven” took two years to be released theatrically and 10 years to be released on video, which is enough to indicate its worth. Final verdict: Skip it.

more details
sound format:
English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Surround
aspect ratio(s):
1.85:1 Enhanced for 16x9 televisions
special features: French and Spanish Subtitles
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Panasonic DVD-XP50
receiver: Denon AVR-3802
main speakers: Polk RT 600i
center speaker: Polk CS 400i
rear speakers: Polk S4
monitor: 43” Sony KP-43HT20

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