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The Harrowing Depths of Addiction

Australian director Neil Armfield, known for his imaginative stage productions but relatively inexperienced as a filmmaker, pulls off a neat, if unsettling, trick in Candy: he presents the highs and lows of heroin addiction without romanticizing the experience.

The lows are particularly painful, wrought with physical agony, the omnipresent threat of overdose and, of course, the need for more heroin. But the highs are not much better. If Dan (Heath Ledger) and his girlfriend Candy (Abbie Cornish) are truly satisfied after their latest fix, you wouldn’t know it. For them, the drug is more a compulsion than a pleasure.

And yet they allow it to dominate every aspect of their lives. Dan and Candy are artists, so it’s conceivable that they were once creative and even productive, but heroin has robbed them of those qualities. Now, they exist only to consume. All junkies need money to sustain their self-mutilating habits, and Dan and Candy are no exception. They borrow from their parents and friends. They sell the washing machine. Eventually, they sell themselves.

This is standard behavior for addicts, in art and in life, and we’ve seen these characters before, in movies like Sid & Nancy, My Own Private Idaho and Requiem for a Dream. Candy, adapted from the novel by Luke Davies, doesn’t add a new wrinkle to the formula, but it thrives on the strength of its actors, whose languid gloominess casts an appropriate pall on the proceedings. Cornish has a natural, cherubic beauty, but here she seems beaten down, resigned to a life of dejection staved off by fleeting moments of desperate escapism.

Ledger is even better. He inhabits his role with an almost disquieting ease, rendering Dan a charismatic and comically inept junkie whose moneymaking schemes grow increasingly clumsy and pathetic. Along with Geoffrey Rush, on hand as a professor with a medicine cabinet that wouldn’t pass FDA muster, he is the driving force behind Candy, a cautionary tale that is bleakly familiar but not without impact.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars