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Saturday, 11 November 2017

Retro Review: The Basketball Diaries (1995)

The Basketball Diaries
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Lorraine Braco, Mark Wahlberg, Juliette Lewis, Bruno Kirby
Genre: Coming-Of-Age Drama
U.S Box Office Gross: over $2 million 

Plot: A teenager finds his dreams of becoming a basketball star threatened after he free falls into the harrowing world of drug addiction 

'Young Leo Shines In This Harrowing Tale of Drug Abuse'

A moving, yet realistic account based on a true story of the late writer and musician Jim Carrol, who before that was a high school teenager who once had a promising basketball career, only to see it evaporate in the blink of an eye through drug addiction & crime, which took over and tragically cost him his life. Despite the title, the main theme isn't of basketball, but of the devastating effect that drugs have on a person. The 1978 memoir of Carrol is based on the diaries he had kept between the ages of 12 when his addiction first started and it continued with his best friends. Along the way, they deal with some unsavoury characters that include the school's basketball coach played by Bruno Kirby, Swifty, who turns out to be a paedophile/pervert, as well as some good guys in mentor Reggie, who challenges Jim to after-school basketball games. As Carrol's addiction spirals out of control, he resorts to crime to support his habit, but then as his friends lose their own way and his mother turns her back on her own son, it isn't too long before Carrol's descent to madness, sadness, chaos and despair transpires. 

The film gained notoriety and courted controversy through a dream sequence scene where Jim, dressed in a trenchcoat shoots and kills his fellow students and his teacher. This scene inspired the infamous Columbine High School massacre, which took place on the day before the fourth anniversary of the release of The Basketball Diaries and it had ultimately cost the lives of 12 students and one teacher. 

Leonardo DiCaprio does resemble a young James Dean and he completely and fully immerses himself into the role and at only 18 years of age back in 1995, in watching his performance, he was born to be an actor. He even went better with Titanic, which blew him up big time 2 years later and since then, he has later gone on to become of one of Hollywood's fully-fledged A-listers in his 40s, after his transition as a so-called teen star/young actor. I have to admit back in the 1990s when he was everywhere via the success of Titanic, I didn't take notice because I thought he'd be one of those actors who'd be known for teenybop roles and movies and a heartthrob for millions of young girls. I was wrong. DiCaprio is an actor, who through his experiences, has shown his range, depth and the different dimensions in a variety of roles and rarely has he disappointed on each and every occasion. Despite his baby-faced look, DiCaprio was riveting here, whilst many have argued that he was and is far more deserving of an Oscar Nomination and win for The Basketball Diaries than for The Reverent. Provocative, efficient, but also showing his maturity and ability to undertake and tackle difficult and challenging roles with ease like a pro, DiCaprio's first foray into serious drama with The Basketball Diaries has paid dividends.  

There are some difficult scenes to watch, such as when Jim is being raped whilst he is in the toilet, but The Basketball Diaries is raw, gritty and a drama that doesn't shy away from being in-yer-face, and yet at the same time, it sends out a powerful message that drugs can be and is the be-all, end-all thing for a person's life.  

Final Verdict

Great performances, well-acted as a whole and as Jim Carrol, this was the breakthrough role for Leonardo DiCaprio, and what a breakthrough role it was too, making Titanic look tame by comparison, despite its populist status. This is still one of his best performances and one that is rarely often mentioned these days in hindsight to his more well-known and established roles in Titanic, Gangs of New York, The Avatar and The Reverent, which is a bit of a shame. I also thought he shined in the Internal Affairs remake, The Departed of 2003 as well. 

The Basketball Diaries is not easy viewing by all means, but it is truly worth it for the performances alone, spearheaded by that of DiCaprio. 

This film has exceeded my expectations and is much better than I'd anticipated it to be. At most, I thought this would be a good film, but in fact, come the end credits had rolled I was more than impressed. 



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