Benicio Del Toro’s Best Acting Displays

By 25 July, 2023
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Benicio del Toro is considered by many to be one of the finest acting talents working today. The Puerto Rican actor has shown himself to be a performer of rare intensity and depth, whatever the role he has taken on.

He first made himself known to audiences outside of Latin America with a part in the 1989 James Bond film Licence to Kill. He then gradually began to win bigger roles in movies such as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Snatch. 

In the latter he was memorable as a gangster obsessed with casino gambling. Indeed his performance likely helped fuel the popularity of online poker Omaha and other casino games in subsequent years.

He is now one of the biggest stars to come out of Latin America and deserves a retrospective of his career to date.

Early Days and the Breakout

The actor was born in San German, Puerto Rico, in 1967. It was a comfortable upbringing, as his parents both had successful careers in the legal industry. 

He initially appeared set for a career in the corporate world but was sidelined from his business degree by acting and he dropped out. His earliest roles were in 1980s television shows like Miami Vice, before his film debut in Big Top Peewee was followed by Licence to Kill the following year.

He played the part of Dario, the henchman for Frank Sanchez, a drugs kingpin. Although a part in a James Bond film is guaranteed to raise the international profile of an actor it also pinpointed the problems del Toro faced early on: being stuck with roles as stereotypical Latin American gangsters.

He began his breakout from that restrictive niche in 1995, with The Usual Suspects. In that film he was again a criminal, but it was a critically acclaimed movie and performance and enabled him to escape from the curse of typecasting.

For portraying the joking Fred Fenster he was awarded an Independent Spirit Award and he won a second of those the following year for Basquiat, where he played Benny Dalmau.

Rise to Mainstream Fame

The late 1990s saw del Toro continue his career progression by acting opposite Robert De Niro in the Hollywood thriller The Fan and providing a quirky performance as Dr Gonzo in an adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Both of these films met with a mixed response from critics and audiences, but the latter highlighted a key aspect of del Toro’s style.

That is his absolute commitment to whatever part he is playing. To portray the overweight lawyer in the Hunter S Thompson adaptation he put on over 40 lbs in weight. 

The new century saw the actor become a major Hollywood figure. The real turning point was Traffic, the 2000 drama that explored the drugs trafficking world.

This Stephen Soderbergh film examined the subject with real complexity and del Toro was cast as a policeman working on the Mexican border. That switch to the other side of the law and the overall seriousness of the film effectively made it a sort of redemption for the clichéd portrayals of criminality that blighted his earlier work. It is still one of the most acclaimed performances and films of his career and won him an Oscar.

Traffic also showed that del Toro is at his best in morally complicated parts that he can lose himself within. Much of his strongest work since has fitted into that category.

Success to the Present Day

After Traffic, del Toro landed another Academy Award nomination for the 2003 drama 21 Grams, directed by Alejandro G Inarritu. This was a role of moral complexity, with the actor cast as a reformed criminal haunted by his murder of the children and husband of a woman played by Naomi Watts.

Important films since then have included the two-part biography of Che Guevara called Che, for which he won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival. He was also acclaimed for his performance as an FBI agent in the 2015 thriller Sicario, which is another of his top rated movies.

While del Toro is known for his method-acting intensity in dark dramas and thrillers, he has added comedy performances to his range. The most notable example of that is the 2021 Wes Anderson film The French Dispatch, where he provided a parody of many of the dangerous criminal roles he has excelled at in the past.

His latest project will see him return to drama as a detective investigating a killing in a film called Reptile due for release later this year.

Benicio del Toro is one of the most sought after actors in Hollywood and is proving his versatility as he gets older, ensuring he remains in demand.

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