In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “The Basketball Diaries takes what could be an over the top, scared straight style after school special, and makes it scarily tragic, heartbreaking and real.”
“I was just gonna sniff a bag but one guy says if you’re gonna sniff you might as well pop it and another guys says if you gonna pop it you might as well mainline.”
Looking back on the last few years of Leonardo DiCaprio’s career, it just looks like an Oscar waiting to happen. In the last decade, he’s been nominated for Best Actor twice, for The Aviator and Blood Diamond, before finally winning last month for The Revenant. And even in less prestigiously highbrow roles, like Django Unchained and Shutter Island, he is never less than 100% committed. I was thinking that this was something he grew into, once he got the heartthrob years of shit like Titanic out of his system. But then I remember his performance in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, a movie he made as teenager, with a performance that’s nothing short of amazing. And now I’ve seen him back it up just a few years later with The Basketball Diaries.
In New York at no specific point in time, Jim (DiCarprio) is a high school basketball star, wannabe poet and borderline delinquent. Jim and his teammates, including Mark Wahlberg as Mickey, are the kinds of dudes who steal from their oppositions lockers after a game in a better neighbourhood than their own. While it’s played off as ultimately harmless, it’s clear that on some level, Jim’s actions are fueled by the frustration of having his best friend (Michael Imperioli as Bobby) in hospital, dying of leukemia.
After Bobby’s death, Jim graduates from petty crime and under aged drinking, and moves onto heroin. What starts as an occasional relief to his sadness and depression quickly turns into an unquenchable addiction. Kicked out of home by his mother (Lorraine Bracco), Jim and Mickey’s actions get more and more desperate, and more and more dangerous, as they chase their next fix.
The autobiographical origins of The Basketball Diaries takes what could be an over the top, scared straight style after school special, and makes it scarily tragic, heartbreaking and real. It’s the kind of movie that would have been a little too heavy and depressing, if I didn’t know that the real life Jim Carroll went on to clean up and write the book that inspired it.
And at the centre of all of this scarily tragic, heartbreaking realism, is Leonardo DiCaprio and his performance. He looked younger than his years for a long, long time. And here, his little boy look works perfectly in the opening stages when Jim is no worse than your average teenager acting out. And it really works when he descends into the hell of addiction. He might have been 20, but he makes you believe you’re watching a 15 year old kid. A 15 year old kid dealing with heroin, death, abuse and half a dozen other things you hope to only ever experience vicariously, through a movie like The Basketball Diaries.