Basketball Diaries Review

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Four Catholic school boy, whose lives revolve around basketball, find their rebellious natures leading them towards less savoury pursuits.


Although the title conjures up images of another no-hopers-to-world-beaters type movie, this is the very antithesis of the predictable all-you-need-is-team-spirit genre. In fact, it focuses on four rebellious Catholic boys, in particular charismatic diarist Jim Carroll, whose adolesence becomes an inexorable downward spiral into drug addiction and crime.

      Of the four, only Neutron hauls his life back on track and gains a basketball scholarship, while the others throw away their sporting talents, descending into hustling to finance their habits. The physical Mickey develops a penchant for violent robbery, Pedro’s carelessness inevitably gets him arrested, and Jim’s diary entries turn surreal as his life collapses into vagrancy and squalor.

      Without rising star DiCaprio and Mark Wahlberg this would have been considerably more turgid and unappealing. But their charm allows sympathy and involvement with the characters, despite their efforts towards self-destruction. DiCaprio’s performance is further evidence of great things to come, taking Carroll convincingly from schoolboy pranks to harrowing sequences of addication and cold turkey. 

      This long-planned adaptation of Carroll’s semi-autobiographical bestseller has suffered somewhat in the telling, not least in the rather hackneyed creation of Reggie Porter as Jim’s worldly wise, one-on-one partner. And while never glamorising the effects of drugs, the message remains slightly ambiguous as Carroll finally emerges a sensitive, thoughtful young man as a result of his experiences. The effect is like a John Hughes movie with a monkey on its back.

Not exactly upbeat watching but the charm of an early DiCaprio and Mark Wahlberg makes this worthwhile viewing.