Carlito’s Way (1993)
Throughout the film, Guzmán does an excellent job of helping develop Pacino’s character for him. Guzmán knows he isn’t the star, and he handles it dutifully. It’s a great, consistently unflashy performance. That is, of course, until the film’s closing scenes, in which Pachanga asserts himself in the most memorable way possible. Et tu, Pachanga?
Boogie Nights (1997)
Maurice TT Rodriguez
Throughout Boogie Nights, director Paul Thomas Anderson makes perfect use of Guzmán’s unique charm. Like when he hopelessly begs Amber Waves for a part in a porn movie, so that Maurice can have something to “send home” to his brothers. It’s such a pathetic yet oddly heartfelt moment, one of many from the incomparable Maurice TT Rodriguez. (For a little extra fun, track down Guzmán’s deleted scene from this movie. I don’t want to spoil it here, but it is pure, self deprecating bliss.)
Raoul ‘El Cid’ Hernandez
Let me put it this way: Guzmán was initially hired for a four episode arc on the show, but he ended up sticking around for three seasons. El Cid was, quite literally, the man Oz couldn’t kill.
The Limey (1999)
The Limey is a damn serious, profoundly obscure film, and any levity (though sparse it may be) isn’t reserved for Guzmán. Normally, I would cite this as a fatal error, but director Steven Soderbergh knew what he was doing. He knew that the best way to tell his tall tale of revenge was to do it void of narrative structure, have Terence Stamp play it heavy, and Luis Guzmán play it straight. It probably shouldn’t work, but hell if it doesn’t.
How to Make It in America (2010-2011)
But perhaps Guzmán’s greatest contribution to the show was this guerrilla marketing video that become a viral sensation. In an effort to promote How to Make It in America, Guzmán riffed on Duck Sauce’s song “Barbara Streisand” and cruised around the Lower East Side promoting, well… the fact that he is Luis Guzmán. With the help of some A-list cameos (including the show’s executive producer, Mark Wahlberg), the music video is almost as good as Guzmán’s whole turn as Rene. Almost.
The Best of the Best
The carefree delivery of Guzmán’s line is a true testament to the brilliance of his understated comedy. He says the line with a passing indifference, as if he genuinely can’t remember ever buying a quarter ton of cocaine before. It’s Guzmán’s subtle ability to inject humor into his roles, and Ray in particular, that makes him such a fine actor.
That opening scene is just one example, because Traffic is full of them. From flubbing a bet with Don Cheadle, to questioning a glass of lemonade, to gushing about his dreams of busting corrupt white people, most everything Guzmán does in Traffic is done to give an added layer of comedic depth to his character. Traffic is far from a Ha-Ha funny film, but there’s a lightness Guzmán brings to it that I greatly appreciate. However, it should be noted that Guzmán knows exactly when to play Ray down. He knows when to be cool, when to he afraid, when to be a hardass, and, yes, certainly, when to be the funniest guy in the room.
Other Notable Roles
Homicide: Life on the Street (1993)
NYPD Blue (1993)
Out of Sight (1998)
Snake Eyes (1998)
The Bone Collector (1999)
The Salton Sea (2002)
The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Runaway Jury (2003)
Anger Management (2003)
Fast Food Nation (2006)
John from Cincinnati (2007)
The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)
The Last Stand (2013)