I never quite realized the magnitude of what we lost when Heath Ledger died until nearly two years later when I saw Candy, one of his final films, in a random retrospective at a local film festival. Like everyone else I relished the technically demanding stunt performance he pulled off with the Joker, and appreciated his subtle, finely-tuned portrait of repression in Brokeback Mountain. But his performance in this little-seen Australian indie was about as far away from those two performances as you could get – and, I think, deeper and tougher than either of them.
Candy, if you haven't seen it, is a pretty familiar travelogue-through-junkie-hell, like Requiem for a Dream with a romantic bent. Ledger plays Dan, an aspiring poet madly in love with Abbie Cornish's beautiful, charming title character. (Dig that brilliant opening scene, a literally dizzying shot of the two of them on the tilt-a-whirl – an almost too-perfect encapsulation of their relationship.) But in addition to being fond of Candy, he's also fond of heroin. And before we know it (we don't see how it happens), so is she, and the two of them enter a death spiral of addiction, poverty and misery.