Candy (Abbie Cornish) and Dan (Heath Ledger) are, respectively, an aspiring artist and a would-be poet whose love is matched only by each other's desire to take heroin. Initially this joint addiction strengthens the couples' bond, but as things get out of control tough choices must be made.

A love triangle between a couple and their chosen drug offers compassion and insight.

Candy is not only a new Australian film, it is the much anticipated, long awaited big screen adaptation of Luke Davies' superb novel, published in 1997.

Starring a raft of local 'stars' – Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain), Abbie Cornish (Somersault) and veteran Geoffrey Rush (Shine) – Candy is also the first dramatic feature film by noted Australian theatre director, Neil Armfield.

Simply put, Candy is a love story. Schematically put, it is a love triangle between two young lovers, in love with each other and a drug. Dan (Ledger) and Candy (Cornish) live in a beautiful twilight, infatuated with each other and the most dangerous, bittersweet "candy" of all, heroin. Early on their lives are easy, whiling away their days in bed, occasionally scoring and using, and getting away with the odd scam here and there to keep their habits alive.

As their addiction strengthens (and the money runs out), their relationship weakens. Struggle on all fronts ensues: emotional, physical and psychological. While Candy turns to prostitution to keep things afloat, Dan turns to his world-weary mentor, the drug veteran Casper (Rush) for survival advice. Though it is not used in the music soundtrack, the lyrics to Joy Division's 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' never echoed so succinctly as it does for Candy.

Candy may not offer much new in the way of 'drug movies'. The story is fairly stock standard: junkie boy meets clean girl. She starts using. They turn to a life of crime. It all ends in tears. No revelations there. But reducing this film to mere story (and words) would in my opinion be to do it a disservice.

The currency of this film lay in its compassion and insight, and the filmmakers' gentle approach to the material. It possesses a clarity about the human condition, so predisposed towards destruction and resurrection, that many films on this turf do not exhibit, more's the pity.

Candy is also told in a modest style, one that is uncharacteristic of the prevailing entry into the drug genre today, especially if you stack it up against the high-octane visuals of Darren Aronofsky's Requiem For a Dream (2000), or the psychedelic cinema excesses of Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas (1998). Which is why Candy works, and works well: its restraint.

As a film director Armfield is clearly of the 'less is more' school, (particularly effective in a first feature). For those who love the book, and possess a well dog-eared copy as I do, Candy will be a minor revelation. Yes there are changes to the story but importantly, not only is the quiet, reflective tone of the book preserved, so is the poetry of the characters and the bittersweet tragedy of their situation.

Co-writers and collaborators Armfield and Davies clearly 'get' our collective attraction towards these types of screen stories because they 'get' our collective attraction towards addiction, period: the seduction, the temptation, the intoxication, the promise... Somehow they manage to reveal the poetry of a life so profane with its horrible realism – the truth and the consequences...

And Heath Ledger gives a performance of which he can be very proud, as should Davies and Armfield be of their adaptation.


Watch 'Candy'

Sunday 14 June, 8:30pm on SBS World Movies (repeats Monday 15th, 2:50am & 11:25pm)
Now streaming at SBS On Demand

Australia, 2006
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Director: Neil Armfield
Starring: Abbie Cornish, Heath Ledger, Geoffrey Rush
What's it about?
Candy (Cornish) and Dan (Ledger) are, respectively, an aspiring artist and a would-be poet whose love is matched only by each other's desire to take heroin. Initially this joint addiction strengthens the couples' bond, but as things get out of control tough choices must be made. Based on the novel by Luke Davies (writer of Lion).

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