January 26, 2001

Stopping Traffic

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For the last few weeks, everyone has been talking about Benicio Del Toro. He’s been on Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien; he’s on the cover of Black Book, and Entertainment Weekly; he’s in The Pledge, Traffic, and Snatch. And he just won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for his performance of Javier Rodriguez Rodriguez, a Mexican police officer with morals. This attention makes sense. After all, he is currently in three successful movies and was nominated for a very prestigious award. What doesn’t make sense, though, is that it has taken Hollywood this long to catch onto this guy.

Benicio Del Toro is, in my opinion, what an actor is supposed to be; he is an actor’s actor, in that he truly dedicates himself to his craft and makes every one of his performances close to or fully a masterpiece. Now, I don’t mean to sway, only to lead, and thus I propose the following: Instead of focusing on Del Toro now, let’s focus on Benicio before. Before all the attention, before all the hype, and before all the interviews, there was a time, when this guy made characters come alive. He single-handedly transformed potentially bad flicks into films worth watching, since he himself was just so stellar. Let’s focus on the time when he did what is only now getting attention for, and see why Hollywood must have been sleeping while this guy was at work.

The first film I saw with Del Toro was The Fan, starring Robert DeNiro and Wesley Snipes. While the cast was satisfying, the movie was a bit disappointing. Del Toro plays Primo, a baseball player at the top of his game and leading his team, while Snipes, a high-profile player, is not living up to expectations. Del Toro sports gold teeth, reddish hair, and a heavy Puerto Rican accent (easy for him, since he is from Puerto Rico). But however easy the accent may be, it is not his lines, but his movements, little side remarks and looks, that were effortlessly improvised and simply unforgettable.

The next film Del Toro starred in, The Usual Suspects, gained him long deserved recognition with lines as classic as DeNiro in Taxi Driver and Bogart in Casablanca. His lines will not only be remembered for their humor, but also, because half of the audience as well as the characters in the movie do not understand what Fenster, his character, is saying. He had maybe nine lines in the entire film, but people remembered everyone of them, or at least their impact.

Next, there was Basquiat, a movie by acclaimed painter and newly turned filmmaker Julian Schnabel, also known as the bad boy of the art world. Del Toro played Benny, the best friend of Jean Michel Basquiat, the second most prominent artist next to Andy Warhol during the eighties. Benny, constantly high and mumbling about this or that, is the most likeable character. Even though he makes no sense when speaking, he gives Basquiat the best advice he could wish for, which he and the audience only later see as being the truth.

In the film, The Way of The Gun, while unbearable, especially since every two minutes someone smoked a cigarette and I could not leave for two hours, Del Toro was again, memorable. He played a killer, cold-blooded and ruthless, who was so charming in the role that you liked him more than the supposed good guys.

So why is everyone suddenly talking about Benicio Del Toro? Many actors were lesser known until they had break out roles, right? Well, yes, but he has been doing the same work, differently, yet signature-like every time, and until now has gotten little credit. All I ask of you is this. Please see the movies above, as well as Excess Baggage, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and The Funeral, and ask yourself why Hollywood only recently gave this guy the time of day. Not to say that he’s been better in certain roles more than others, since it seems like he was just born with this I’ll-act the-same-way-but-make-it-different-everytime kind of talent. It seems as if he has had that grim look, that hint of gray in his hair, and a cigarette in his mouth since childhood, “flippin you for real,” and already then, asking you to hand him those keys, “you cocksucker” and it has worked everytime.

In all seriousness, however, this guy is a talent that has been overlooked for far too long. He has been an actor forever, being that 33 in Hollywood is ancient, and he is finally getting his big break. Now please, take the time and rent the films. Form your own opinions and perhaps you’ll prove me wrong.

Don’t worry, I don’t work for Collegetown Video. But I still suggest you go there, tell them I sent you for Benicio Del Toro, and maybe they will forget about the huge late fees I still owe.


Archived article by Nino Linsmayer