The Basketball Diaries

Director: Scott Kalvert
Screenwriters: Bryan Goluboff

Institute History

  • 1995 Sundance Film Festival


The Basketball Diaries is the true story of Jim Carroll, based on his written accounts of his experiences growing up on the cold, hard streets of New York. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio in a tour-de-force performance as Carroll, it chronicles the descent of the teenager from gifted basketball player and writer to drug addict and hustler.

Director Scott Kalvert in his feature film debut has fashioned a dramatically powerful, intense portrait of a young man whose fall is not like that of the usual loser. Raised by a single mother in a working-class neighborhood of the city, Carroll did indeed grow up fast, as the cliché says. Attending a Catholic school along with his three running mates, played by Mark Wahlberg, Michael Imperioli and James Madio, two of whom are also playing ball, he learns early to ignore the hypocritical admonitions of authority figures, since the lessons of the city streets have greater appeal and certainly greater relevance. He seems to be surviving relatively well; he obviously has talent both as an athlete and a writer, and although his friends aren’t exactly angels, he’s more than aware of the pitfalls of addiction. Nevertheless, when caught doing drugs during a game with his buddies, all of them are expelled, and when he’s out on the street, his real downfall begins.

As bleak a vision of life as The Basketball Diaries is, it’s also riveting, for it rings with authenticity and realism. In addition to DiCaprio, Lorraine Bracco is outstanding as his mother, and Wahlberg is especially good as his somewhat brutish cohort and fellow addict. Although we’ve all seen or read tales of addiction, they are almost never this truthfully told. The Basketball Diaries will impact you beyond your expectations.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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