BD Review: The Basketball Diaries

Film & TV
BD Review: The Basketball Diaries

I hate to admit it, considering the way it will probably sound, but I love movies about drug addicts. I think it’s the dramatic aspect of them that appeals to me. As a writer, I love viewing the tormented soul and the length of destruction a person will go through before they attempt to pull themselves, sometimes feebly, from the abyss. Unfortunately, truly amazing drug addict movies are hard to come by. In all honesty there are only a few that really stick with me. Three of these movies were made in the same decade. The first two are Where the Day Takes You and Sweet Nothing. The third is the only one currently on Blu-ray, and that is The Basketball Diaries.

Sweet Nothing and The Basketball Diaries actually have a fair bit in common. Both movies are based on true stories; the former is crafted from a diary found in a New York apartment and the latter is based on the life of writer, Jim Carroll. Both movies also star Michael Imperioli, though in one he’s the star and in the other he has a brief supporting role. Both movies are incredibly powerful, offering the highs and lows of addiction and life in general.

The Basketball Diaries has often been highlighted as a movie that is so violent that it creates the image that behavior seen in this film is acceptable in real life. Every so often a school shooting will happen and you will hear a third rate psychologist comment that the teenager had a copy of The Basketball Diaries on them or at their home. The fact of the matter is that this film is not disturbing for its violent content. Even the drug addiction scenes are eased over so nothing overly graphic is ever shown. None of this matters though because the acting is convincing enough for you to imagine the high and the desperation that comes when the main character cannot have it any longer. DiCaprio truly deserves to be celebrated for his work here.

The Basketball Diaries

Jim Carroll is the man of the hour. He was a creative teenager on the streets of New York living with a single mother. He had dreams of a basketball scholarship and played for one of the best Catholic School teams in the city. He also was a writer. His life took a turn for the worst when he decided to focus on drug use full time. This is his story.

I have seen this movie at least 100 times. If I ever murdered anyone they would probably blame it on the number of times that I have seen this. Now that I have it on Blu-ray, I will probably watch it even more. It’s one of my go-to movies. No matter what mood I am in, I can always watch this. The acting is superb, the story is moving, and the picture (in terms of the general film) is virtually flawless. If you haven’t seen this, you need to watch it. If you have, well there’s nothing more I need to say because you already know what I am talking about.

Sadly, Jim Carroll, the man that this film is based on, passed away last year on September 11. According to reports, he died of a heart attack, doing what he loved the most. He was at his desk writing. One can only hope we are all as lucky, to die doing what we love the most. Lord knows, most of us probably won’t be.

The Basketball Diaries Plot
The Basketball Diaries is based on Jim Carroll’s actual experiences as a teenager and a New York City heroin addict. The film takes place in the 90s (the book took place in the 60s) and Carroll (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a rising star on the hottest Catholic School basketball team in the city. Despite having the skills to become a star, it seems that many things are standing in his way. From traditional teenage angst to his best friend that is dying with leukemia (Imperioli), Carroll’s life is slowly falling apart.

His mother (Bracco) encourages him to be the best, and though she is, at times, overbearing, it’s obvious that she has his best interests at heart. None of that matters though because he’s dealing with the rigors of Catholic School, a creepy basketball coach (Bruno Kirby), and he’s flirting with drug use.


The more he huffs, pops pills, and snorts cocaine the deeper into the drug life he goes. He quits the basketball team and school after an ill-fated, drug induced game. His friends Mickey (Wahlberg) and Pedro (Madio) follow right along with him. Only one, Neutron (McGaw), continues on with occasional drug use while at school, so he can meet his goal of being on the All-Star team.

Carroll ends up on the streets, travelling the back rooms and underpasses of New York’s heroin world to survive on the only thing he can rely on. As his friends fall to the wayside and only the next high matters, it’s up to Carroll to learn the hard way, or die without trying.

The Basketball Diaries appears in Blu-ray with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and a 1080p transfer. Despite this not being a new movie, it certainly passes with a pretty good video quality. The detail is higher than one would expect for an older film (made pre-Blu-Ray) and everything has a fairly natural appearance to it. The colors are strong and the blacks are acceptable, but they could be better. Things like edge enhancement and noise occur randomly, but these things are not present enough to cause huge problems. Overall, there really isn’t much to complain about with this release. It is worlds above and beyond the quality offered in the DVD that was previously released. Fans will definitely want to own this.

BasketBall Diaries

The Basketball Diaries offers two main, English audio tracks. I listened to select scenes with one audio and watched the entire film with the default, DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. The other track is LPCM 2.0. Both tracks sound good and have their benefits. I did not notice any audio defects on either track. The sound was strong, though in different ways, and there were no issues with volume toggling. The surround sound isn’t too dynamic, but it does what it needs to do in key scenes. The 2.0 track seems better at detailing some of the quieter moments, while the 5.1 track gives a more robust feel and sound to the overall picture. Like the video, this is a direct improvement over what is offered in the DVD.

Bonus Features:
There are two main features here and some previews that round out the special feature section. There could have been more, but what is here is definitely worth watching. Normally, with a movie like this lacking features I would complain, but the ones here are short, sweet, and to the point, and I like that.

“Jim Carroll Interview & Reading” – The interview comes from a December 1981 interview while Carroll was in Toronto. He discusses writing, how he got started, and drug use. After the interview there is a reading of “Just Visiting” by Carroll.

“Interviews” – Plenty of short interviews are included with the cast and crew. The complete list is with Scott Kalvert, Liz Heller, Mark Wahlberg, James Madio, Patrick McGaw, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bruno Kirby, Ernie Hudson, and Lorraine Bracco. Everyone talks about their part in the movie, including their characters, their impression, and what it was like making a movie on this particular topic.

That’s it, other than some standard previews for other Palm Pictures that will be or have been released.

Bottom Line:
The Basketball Diaries is a modern day classic. Stories about drug use always have the potential to be powerful when put to screen, but Diaries offers stellar writing, exemplary acting, and it gives you characters along with real life emotions that you can relate to and care about.

Ashtyn Law is a freelance writer living in Ohio. Focusing on film, she spends much of her days watching and analyzing film and television and also writing screenplays.

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