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The Basketball Diaries

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Basketball Diaries

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Bruno Kirby
Director: Scott Kalvert
Rated: R
RunTime: 102 Minutes
Release Date: April 1995
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Lorraine Bracco, Ernie Hudson, Patrick McGaw, James Madio, Mark Wahlberg, Barton Heyman, Juliette Lewis, Michael Rapaport, Michael Imperioli

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Dragan Antulov review follows movie reviewmovie review
2.  Brian Koller read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review

Review by Dragan Antulov
2 stars out of 4

Although historical examples and even some current events provide plenty of examples in which violent acts are inspired by various things, including ancient religious texts, in 1990s Hollywood movies and other forms of popular culture seemed to be the sole source of the violence in American society. At least this was the impression given by media crusade, inspired by the series of school shootings in late 1990s America, for which the young perpetrators had allegedly found inspiration in violent films from Hollywood. Among various titles the one is particularly singled because of the scene that actually featured one of such shootings - THE BASKETBALL DIARIES, 1995 teen angst drama directed by Scott Kalvert.

The shooting is nothing but the vision in the mind of the film's protagonist Jimmy (played by Leonardo di Caprio), 16-year old boy who lives in Manhattan with his mother (played by Lorraine Bracco). Jimmy is star of St. Vitus, seemingly unbeatable high school basketball team, and everyone expects that he would continue his stardom in NBA. However, Jimmy, being rebellious teenager, has increasing problems adapting to the repressive and hypocritical atmosphere of Catholic high school, as well as dealing with his own broken home and best friend Bobby (played by Michael Imperioli) dying from leukemia. In order to escape from it all Jimmy finds refuge in casual sex and drug use. The latter proves to be his undoing - his basketball skills quickly vanish, he leaves school and home and is soon forced to leave on the street where he commits various crimes and sells his body in order to pay for his heroin habit.

Based on the autobiographical novel by former heroin addict, rocker and poet Jim Carroll, THE BASKETBALL DIARIES provide uniquely naturalistic and explicit portrayal of the destructive capabilities of heroin addiction. Leonardo di Caprio, in its uncompromising and convincing portrayal of promising teenager who ends up like a basket case would forever silence all those who see him as nothing more than a pretty boy. His strong performance is matched by equally impressive supporting roles. Lorraine Bracco excels in the role of Jim's mother, especially in one particularly moving scene that feature final split-up of the family, while James Kirby stands out with the extremely effective portrayal of creepy basketball coach. Juliette Lewis is also very convincing in the role of street junkie, and that role becomes even more interesting when we know that the actress had some real-life drug problems after the production of this film.

THE BASKETBALL DIARIES had misfortune of being released in the same year as two otherfilms that dealt with similar subjects - Danny Boyle's TRAINSPOTTING and Larry Clark's KIDS. While the former dealt with the dark world of heroin addiction with much more details and style than THE BASKETBALL DIARIES, the latter was much more convincing in the depiction of modern teenager's alienation from society. This is actually major problem of the film - script by Bryan Goluboff (which set the plot in modern day instead of late 1960s like the novel) switches direction in the middle; until that moment it is an honest and intriguing portrayal of young man and his relationship with society; afterwards it turns into sometimes oversimplistic anti-drug film. Director Scott Kalvert also tends to show his videoclip author's root too much. The happy ending also seems a little bit cliched, although it owes more to real life than to the filmmakers' lack of imagination. However, despite not being among the best film that deal with this grim and disturbing subjects, THE BASKETBALL DIARIES is nevertheless a remarkable film that just had misfortune of getting wrong reputation.

Copyright 2001 Dragan Antulov

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