best film:  Benicio Del Toro has a half dozen films spread about the last four decades that warrant deliberation here. His star was still on the rise in 1995 when he played Fenster in The Usual Suspects. Dr. Gonzo was a chance for both he and Johnny Depp to show off – these are big performances in Terry Gilliam’s bizarre drug fueled circus of a film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Steven Soderbergh’s two toned formal masterstroke Traffic (2000) is both his peak and Del Toro’s. Del Toro kept the momentum going in the early 2000s with 21 Grams (2003). A dozen years went by – Sicario in 2015 – before another director (this time Denis Villeneuve) knew how to best use Del Toro’s talents. And Del Toro finally showed he is still as sharp as ever in the 2020s with his work with Wes Anderson in The French Dispatch (2021).


best performance:  Benicio Del Toro’s resume is about the strength of those top five (5) performances – not one big performance. The edge goes to his work in Traffic playing Mexican cop Javier Rodriguez. It is Del Toro that walks away from Soderbergh’s ensemble film with the best performance in a talented cast that includes Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Don Cheadle. There is a nuance to Del Toro’s performance here that he had not known previously in his career.


Steven Soderbergh has twenty (20) archiveable films – and may make twenty more – but it seems doubtful that he will ever make a better film than 2000’s Traffic – and Del Toro is pivotal to the complex story.


stylistic innovations/traits:   Benicio Del Toro was born in Puerto Rico in 1967 and starred as a Bond villain in his early twenties (License to Kill in 1989). The consistency over many films (those top five performances best anyone not mentioned on the list yet) and decades (those top five come from at least one each the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and 2020s) is what is most admirable about Del Toro’s career. Del Toro has proven himself in both comedies (Wes Anderson and Terry Gilliam) and films that are as serious as a heart attack (21 Grams, Sicario). The small roles in Guardians of the Galaxy and The Last Jedi do not add much to the resume and the one collaboration with the great Paul Thomas Anderson (Inherent Vice) so far did not do too much to move the needle – but still, Del Toro’s track record and obvious abundance of ability would indicate that he should continue to add to his number of archiveable films (16 so far to date) in the future.


from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Del Toro plays Dr. Gonzo opposite Johnny Depp’s absolutely mad Raoul Duke character. Both of these talented actors are clearly committed to the work. Depp is almost unrecognizable. If these two great actors (both in their prime in 1998 – well Depp is in his and Del Toro heading into his) do not land these performances, the film would stumble and falter. The film and role is a big swing for Del Toro.


directors worked with:  Sean Penn (2), Steven Soderbergh (2), Peter Weir (1), Abel Ferrara (1), Terry Gilliam (1), Paul Thomas Anderson (1), Denis Villeneuve (1), Rian Johnson (1), Wes Anderson (1)


if Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario is an update on the western genre in a contemporary setting, Benicio Del Toro plays one hell of a gunslinger – at least half of his genius here is non verbal.


top five performances:

  1. Traffic
  2. Sicario
  3. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
  4. 21 Grams
  5. The French Dispatch


archiveable films

1991- The Indian Runner
1993- Fearless
1995- The Usual Suspects
1996- The Funeral
1998- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
2000- Snatch
2000- Traffic
2001- The Pledge
2003- 21 Grams
2005- Sin City
2014- Guardians of the Galaxy
2014- Inherent Vice
2015- Sicario
2017- Star Wars: The Last Jedi
2021- No Sudden Move
2021- The French Dispatch