2006, Movie, R, 108 mins


Luke Davies' poetic and at times harrowing novel makes a smooth transition to the screen thanks in large part Heath Ledger's richly textured portrayal of Dan, a 26-year-old Australian junkie whose life is controlled by his two great, ultimately indistinguishable passions: heroin and a beautiful young artist named Candy (Abbie Cornish). "Heaven," the first of the film's three parts, beautifully recounts the swooning early days of Sam and Candy's life together in Melbourne — and Candy's introduction to the drug that has been already dictating Sam's life for years. Curious about what makes heroin so appealing to the man she loves, Candy insists on injecting, rather than snorting, her next fix, and though her first experience with the needle ends in an overdose, her resolve to embrace the drug only deepens. A visit with her parents makes it apparent why she might seek out such a self-destructive escape. While her father (Tony Martin) is mild-mannered and affectionate, her mother (Noni Hazlehurst, in a powerful performance) is cold and cruelly critical. Sam has already chosen oblivion over family: He hasn't spoken to his father in years, and instead leans on Casper (Geoffrey Rush), an older organic-chemistry professor and fellow junkie, for occasional emotional and financial support. Sam and Candy's love affair quickly becomes a ménage à trois — the two of them plus smack — and after a few heady months of shooting up, Sam and Candy decide to get married, much to the horror of Candy's mother, who rightfully suspects that whatever is wrong with Dan is now infecting her daughter. Sure enough, the days of heaven soon end, and "Earth" finds Sam and Candy hocking everything they own to support their increasing habit. When her grandmother's gold ring doesn't net them enough for a day's fix, Candy turns to prostitution and is soon working at a tacky brothel, shooting up between clients. When Candy discovers that she's pregnant, she and Sam bravely attempt a horrifying home detox, but their close dependence upon each other means one will always drag the other down. The aptly titled "Hell" chronicles the sad aftermath of Candy's pregnancy and a misguided attempt to kick their habit through methadone and country living, an attempt that instead ends in madness. Without resorting to overheated melodrama or the horror-show theatrics of drugsploitation movies like REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, Neil Armfield's film hits hard because it sensitively shows how life on drugs can never be about anything else, and how the real horror of addiction is not what users do to themselves, but what they do to each other out of loneliness and despair. In the end, Sam must deal with the terrible responsibility he bears for wrecking Candy's life in order to make his own marginally better. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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