Stephen Whitty

Columnist, critic for national and international outlets. Author, lecturer, host.

Jul 13, 2021
1 min read

According to the Chinese proverb, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Sometimes, though, the most life-changing journeys begin with 12.

The new film Steps, though, isn’t really about Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s a story about conquering addictions, of all kinds. To drugs and alcohol. To rage and violence. To impulsive decisions and self-destructive relationships.

Largely set on the mean streets of Jersey City, it stars TV veteran Robbie Morgan as Brian, a successful lawyer with a woman he loves and a great apartment. Then, one night, he runs out to the bodega to pick up a package of paper towels and is shot in a holdup.

The bullet doesn’t kill him, but his recovery almost does. He starts to drink, heavily. He loses his job. He loses his marriage (and all contact with his infant son). He loses his home. When we catch up with him 14 years later, he’s on the street, panhandling.

And then he meets a supportive pastor and takes that first step.

But audiences wary of faith-based movies, with their often-ready reliance on canned sermons and easy answers, needn’t fear Steps.

Robert McKay’s pastor spends more time playing chess with Brian than preaching at him. Although the church is shown as a center of urban life, providing social services as well as spiritual support, it’s not presented as a one-stop shop for miracle cures.

What really changes Brian is forgiveness. And that not includes not only forgiving the punk who shot him but forgiving himself.

Morgan is the center of the film, bringing a quiet mournfulness to Brian. And he’s ably partnered by the charismatic Walter Fauntleroy, as the gang member who had attacked him – and years later has become an embittered survivor of another episode of gun violence.

To some, the film’s opening credits may sound a bit of a warning, listing two directors, three directors of photography, and over a dozen producers (including Shaquille O’Neal). A crowd like that can hint at disorganization, and delays, and indeed the film was shot more than five years ago.

But the final result is polished and professional, carefully avoiding any visual inconsistencies or far-fetched coincidences.

Admitted, there are a few rough spots. The pace is a little slow. On those rare moments when someone – a pastor, a doctor – steps forward to give some eyes-on-the-prize advice, Eddie Harris’ script falls back on clichés. And directors Rock Davis and Jay Rodriguez Jr. fail to reel in some of their actors, who asked to provide comic relief, quickly descend into stereotypes – loud and sassy church ladies, a flamboyant and crudely cruising gay man.

But the two leads, the authentic locations, and straightforward story soon draw you in. And take you on a journey toward redemption – one step at a time.

4 stars (out of 5)

Steps