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Though there’s plenty of people who take drugs for entirely recreational purposes and never go to hell in any sort of handcart, there’s not much drama to be had from making movies about them. So instead drugs movies tend to be about people hitting the buffers. Candy does at least do it with a roster of good Australian actors, who are required to pull out most of the thespian organ stops as they make the familiar journey – from “we’re just fooling around” to “oops, someone’s dead”, calling in between at all the usual stations on the degradation line. And luckily for us, it’s Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish who brighten up the journey on what could be a potential misery mile. Ledger is again quietly unassumingly excellent as the greasy, smelly, flaky but under it all rather decent guy who introduces his girl to the world of mainlining heroin and then goes to hell with her. The girl is Abbie Cornish – mesmerising in Somersault, still compellingly watchable here and still in the taking-her-top-off phase of her career.

“When you can stop, you don’t want to. When you want to stop, you can’t,” is the key line, delivered by Geoffrey Rush in a blur-on as an old druggie habitué, but making enough of a mark that you wished he would stay. We’re still early on in the Heaven, Earth and Hell chapter headings given to the three-act structure, before Ledger’s Dan has gone from well-groomed and super cool suburban poet to lank loser; and Cornish’s Candy has ditched painting, learnt to steal and gone out on the game to earn enough money for a hit.

In its favour is that the film does manage these transitions very well – how does a nice girl who wouldn’t ordinarily sell her body for cash get talked into – and talks herself into – doing it? And on the other side it does take druggies to some extent at their own estimation of themselves – as doomed tragic heroes. Perhaps that’s the way you sell a film to a demographic who aren’t exactly the most eager and thirsty for any new experience, unless a high comes with it.

For the rest of us, we can remark on the way that Cornish has, since she came to movie-watchers’ attention in Cate Shortland’s Somersault, picked up a couple of Nicole Kidman tics (the eighth profile to camera, the half-downturned mouth), and that the way that she and Ledger invest these beautiful losers with such a belt of underdog likeability that you care for them, feel with them and hope against hope – because films generally aren’t made about people who take drugs and then stop – that they’re both going to be OK.

Candy – Watch it/buy it now at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2006

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