In the mid-90s Benecio Del Toro emerged as one of the most charismatic actors on the big screen. After stealing scenes from the likes of Kevin Spacey and Stephen Baldwin in 1994’s The Usual Suspects, Del Toro’s memorable and unique performance made him a big name on the lips of casting agents all over Hollywood and secured him roles alongside world-renowned directors such as Guy Ritchie, Steven Soderbergh, Terry Gilliam and Denis Villeneuve. The 48 year-old Puerto Rican has picked up a number of awards along the way, including an Academy Award, BAFTA Award, Golden Globe Award, and Screen Actors Guild Award for his portrayal of Javier Rodríguez in the film Traffic (2000).
His latest performance as the shady Columbian operative known only as Alejandro in SICARIO (out on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms NOW) is nominated for a Supporting Actor BAFTA, yet controversially snubbed by the Academy this year amongst a number of non-white omissions. Never mind the Academy, let’s take a look at some of Del Toro’s most impressive performances to date...
SICARIO is a searing, unflinching journey into the deadly, volatile and morally murky world of Mexican drug cartels from visionary director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies, Prisoners). When FBI agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) uncovers a Mexican cartel’s house of death, her shocking find causes shockwaves on a personal and global level. Kate is recruited to join a covert black ops mission headed by a mysterious Colombian operative known only as Alejandro (Del Toro) along with shadowy agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). Even as Kate tries to convince herself she’s on a hunt for justice, she is thrust into the dark heart of a secret battleground that has swept up ruthless cartels, kill-crazy assassins, clandestine American spies and thousands of innocents. Del Toro’s captivating and eerie turn as the morally ambiguous Alejandro is a perfect representation of what happens when the pressing issues of drugs, terror, illegal immigration, corruption and an escalating swathe of violence are concentrated around one geographical border.
Guy Ritchie’s British gangster flick, Snatch, follows a number of criminals in an intertwined web of conflict spurred on by a stolen diamond. Del Toro’s character, Frankie Four Fingers, is at the heart of a jewel heist and finds himself in a spot of bother whilst trying to distribute the rock to an American buyer. Another plotline follows Turkish and Tommy, played by Jason Statham and Stephen Graham respectively, as they are sucked into the underground world of fixed boxing at the hands of Brick Top, a mobster played by Alan Ford. The array of amusing characters all cross paths and the separate stories merge into one in classic Guy Ritchie fashion that is very reminiscent of his debut feature Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
The Usual Suspects
Following the explosion of a cargo ship that killed several people, the police investigate one of the only survivors, Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey). Kint reluctantly caves in and gives information on how the incident on the waterfront came about. He begins his story six weeks earlier when he and 4 other con-men, including Del Toro’s slurring character Fenster, are brought in on suspicion of committing a crime none of them were actually responsible for. To get back at the police the five men successfully plan and execute an operation to steal a valuable jewel. Following the heist, the men are contacted by a lawyer representing a highly feared criminal, Keyser Soze, who wants them for a job. The result of the job is the catastrophe at the shipyard and an uncertain feeling of who is really in charge.
Soderbergh’s take on the war on drugs follows four separate stories that are all somehow connected. A conservative judge who was just appointed the new drug czar discovers his teenage daughter is a cocaine addict, a wife takes over her wealthy husband’s drug business after his arrest, and two DEA agents look after an informant with crucial knowledge on the spouse’s illegal commerce. The last story is Benecio Del Toro’s who plays Javier Rodriguez, a slightly corrupt cop whose biggest battle is with his own conscious after realising his new boss isn’t exactly who he thought he was.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Johnny Depp stars as the drug addled journalist, Raoul Duke, in the big screen adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s novel of the same name. Duke sets out on a quest in a red convertible with his psychotic Samoan lawyer, played by Del Toro, to discover the “American Dream”. Funded by a magazine to cover a sporting event and accompanied by a trunk full of drugs, the two travel to Las Vegas. On their journey they encounter hitchhikers, girls, gamblers, policemen, giant lizards, and a whole lot of bats in an attempt to find the elusive ideology. Directed by Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam, this psychedelic film is a different, yet positive and welcomed, addition to Benecio Del Toro’s roster of roles.
Escobar: Paradise Lost
Nick (Josh Hutcherson) and his brother Dylan (Brady Corbet) leave their hometown in Canada to find a simpler life on the beaches of Colombia in actor Andrea Di Stefano’s first stab at directing. Nick’s easy surfer lifestyle takes a turn when he falls in love with the niece of the drug kingpin Pablo Escobar (Benecio Del Toro). Whilst pursuing his newfound love, Nick gets sucked into her uncle’s business and all the dangers that come with it. He quickly realises the power Escobar posses and begins to re-evaluate the decisions he has made and his place in the family.
Che: Part One (The Argentine) and Che: Part Two (Guerilla) (2008)
This 4 hour biopic, directed by Steven Soderbergh, sees Benicio Del Toro star as Marxist revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara. The film is actually a merged version of two films by Soderbergh: The Argentine and Guerrilla. The first part focuses on the Cuban revolution, from the moment Fidel Castro (Demián Bichir), Guevara and other revolutionaries landed on the Caribbean island, until they toppled the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista two years later. The second part focuses on Che's attempted revolution and eventual demise in Bolivia. Che was screened on May 21 at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, where Del Toro won the Best Actor Award for his uncanny portrayal of Guevara in the film.
SICARIO is out now on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms, courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment
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