The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Benicio Del Toro
One of my all-time favorite actors without question, the deep raspy-voiced Benicio Del Toro has blazed such an incredible path of success and roles that have since become classic and yet he shows no signs of slowing down. Originally born in Puerto Rico, Benicio moved to the mainland U.S. with his family at a young age and attended university in the pursuit of becoming a lawyer. That all changed however when he got a taste of the dramatic arts and then set his sights on acting full-time. He had bit supporting roles here and there throughout the late 80's and early 90's (we all remember him in James Bond's LICENSE TO KILL) but everything changed when a then young up-and-coming director named Bryan Singer casted him in probably his most recognized film to-date, THE USUAL SUSPECTS . After winning an Independent Spirit Award for his cult-classic role as Fenster, that's when his climb up the fame ladder really picked up speed.
It wasn't long before Benicio started getting more upfront supporting roles and even leads in films such as EXCESS BAGGAGE alongside Alicia Silverstone or as the legendary Dr. Gonzo in Terry Gilliam's FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS alongside Johnny Depp a year later. While these roles and other parts were very kind to him at the tale end of the 90's (despite his role in Fear and Loathing giving him a bit of a strange image to cinema-goers at the time), nothing could compare to the events of 2000 when Benicio found himself to be the talk of Hollywood and abroad with his epic portrayal of a Mexican police officer battling the drug cartels/government politics in Steven Soderbergh's TRAFFIC. Despite the film having a gigantic A-list cast, Benicio stood out over all of them which led to multiple award wins including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Many out there think Joaquin Phoenix should have won that year for Gladiator but I've always disagreed believing that Benicio's performance is far more enduring and paved a path for future films and roles regarding the brutal drug wars in Mexico and the United States.
Since then, Benicio has gone on to have an incredible filmography of work that again is showing absolutely no signs of letting up. From his hilarious and classic bit-role in Guy Ritchie's SNATCH in 2000 to his amazing character Jack Jordan in Alejandro González Iñárritu's 21 GRAMS in 2003 (which gave him another Independent Spirit Award and Oscar nomination), Benicio has proven himself to have an incredibly wide acting range. Having settled down only a few years ago with his partner Kimberly Stewart (Rod's daughter) and having a baby, Guillermo still stays very busy as he expands into every genre of film. From portraying THE WOLFMAN to becoming the Collector for Marvel's GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, Benicio continues to show his extreme versatility as an actor and is always keen on taking new and challenging parts despite his stereotyped voice/look and earlier body of work.
The film that Benicio won the Oscar for is without a doubt his best work in my opinion. His portrayal of Officer Javier Rodriguez gave the film its emotional core as you could see the pain and frustration in his performance. Benicio carries us along us on a tidal wave of hell throughout his part of the film as he takes on a corrupted Mexican General, a drug cartel using him as a pawn to destroy the competition and finally having no choice but to work with the DEA to wipe them all out for good. You really felt like you were right there with him on the front lines of a failing drug war that had no end in sight and his impeccable and believable transitioning from one situation to the other is so rewarding to watch. If there was ever a film that truly depicts the complete and utter collapse/failure of the war on drugs in that region of the world, this one is it. That raw emotion combined with the brilliant direction of Soderbergh and writing from Stephen Gaghan created a character that like I said earlier carved a path for future actors that took on similar-themed roles. If you've never seen Traffic, I can't recommend it enough.
While for the most part Benicio's roles have been well-received and now most are in a state of classic awareness with fans, this epic two-part film from director Steven Soderbergh just seemed to fall through the box office cracks for some reason. Back in a time when Christopher Nolan's THE DARK KNIGHT was smashing box office results and making critics and comic book fans go wild, Benicio also released part one and two of CHE which was the story of Argentine Marxist revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara who led the Cuban Revolution in the 1950's. It was an intense and powerful pair of films that depicted the rise and fall of the revolution and Benicio's performance was greatly loved, especially at Cannes that year when he won Best Actor. However the reason I say it's underrated is because other than the Cannes win and some smaller random awards, CHE never found a big spotlight here in North America or abroad. It fell under the radar very quickly for audiences and as such it didn't gain any momentum during awards season of 2009. It's an excellent set of films together as one and highly recommended.
While I am a big fan of Oliver Stone's earlier work, SAVAGES was an incredible misfire for the famed director and it took down everyone with it. While Benicio didn't really give a bad performance in general as cartel inforcer for Salma Hayek's character, his character was poorly written but that's not saying much as pretty well the entire movie is a mess (not to mention one of the worst movie endings in recent memory). It's a film that most critics and film fans forgot about very quickly to say the least. To be honest this was actually a difficult category to choose for as Benicio in general has been very careful with the parts he picks. THE WOLFMAN was also a weak entry in his filmography but it did still have great random moments and Benicio did the best he could with the character and story presented.
This was a damn tough decision to make for me cause as much as I love TRAFFIC and as much as I love FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS...*sigh*...the lineup from THE USUAL SUSPECTS is one of the greatest cult-classic film scenes of all-time. When someone says the words "police lineup" to you, this is the scene that jolts into the back of your brain. You'd be hard pressed to find a movie fan that doesn't know this scene word for word and Benicio's bit is hilarious.
4. FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS
3. CHE: PART ONE AND TWO
2. 21 GRAMS
To say that Benicio has a lot of work coming up is an understatement. Not only does he have the now critically-acclaimed action thriller SICARIO coming out very soon (click here to watch Chris Bumbray's 10/10 review) but you can also see him soon in a currently untitled Terrence Malick film and then taking a massive step into the Star Wars franchise as the possible villain of EPISODE VIII under director Rian Johnson. I'd say it's safe to assume that we'll be seeing a lot more of Mr. Del Toro in the future and that makes this writer quite joyful. Thanks for reading everybody...in English.
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|Extra Tidbit:||Benicio's badass reputation also extends to the gorgeous celebrities he has dated including Valeria Golino, Alicia Silverstone, Heather Graham and Catherine Keener.|