The Basketball Diaries has always be one of my favorite “drug” films. Mostly due to the fact that it is an incredible true story that is brought to life through Leonardo DiCaprio’s absolutely mind-blowing performance. It is completely beyond me why Leo has never received an Academy Award. I truly hope that this will be his year with The Wolf of Wall Street. Similarly, his role in The Basketball Diaries and The Wolf of Wall Street share a common thread of drug abuse and addiction, just set in different circumstances and backgrounds. Whether he is playing a drug addict, a cop, a murderer, a gangster, or a king, there is no denying that Leonardo DiCaprio has a marvelous gift, and this film is no exception.
Set in New York City, Jim Carroll (played by Leo) seems like an average adolescent boy- full of mischief and willing to try anything. He and his gang of friends fill their summer days with huffing paint, petty crimes, girls, jerking it, drinking, and of course, basketball. All of this starts out innocently enough. Boys will be boys. But unfortunately, Jim has been dealt a bad hand -being raised by a single mother, his best friend who is dying of cancer, and a basketball coach prone to liking his boys a little too much- all contribute to his want and need of escaping reality.
His safe haven, writing in his journal, isn’t near as satisfying as the high he gets from heroin- where all sadness and pain float away. First, it’s a Saturday night thing, to kill the boredom. A chippy they call it. But then it’s Tuesdays, then Thursdays. There is that voice in the back of your head, “Just one more time and we will stop.” Every wise guy on the street says it won’t happen, but then it’s got you. Jim Carrol’s descent, from a promising young basketball player to a full-blown heroin addict living on the streets of New York, is a harrowing and true portrayal of innocence lost.
The real Jim Carroll has a small role in the film as a heroin addict. I’m sure this act wasn’t much of a stretch for him. Jim is not a pretty sight. It definitely looks like he has been to hell and back. A proof of what drugs can do to your body. In the final scenes of the movie, Leo is shown as a reformed and clean version of Jim Carroll. He runs into an old friend, who is still a doper on the streets. The doper offers Jim a little taste from the past. As Jim refuses, his face is cast in shadow- half in darkness and half in light: a reflection of the struggle of his two selves.
The fact that this is a true story makes it absolutely horrifying. I went on a reading rampage after seeing this movie for the first time, only reading novels about drug abuse and addiction. I was fascinated and appalled by the horror of it all. I read The Basketball Diaries and it really is a good book. But this is one of those rare cases where the movie is better than the novel. This may be because Jim Carroll completed this book at the young age of 17 years old. How he lived through all this and recovered, and then went on to become an accomplished poet and musician, is a stunning anomaly.
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