Movie Review: Mr. Untouchable

Mr. Untouchable
A Film by Marc Levin
Produced by Damon Dash Enterprises and Blowback Productions

All roads led to Harlem”¦All roads then led to Nicky Barnes. — from Mr. Untouchable

Mr. Untouchable is a documentary about the first credited “black godfather.” Mr. Untouchable himself, Nicky Barnes, gives first-hand testimony of his life, his addiction, his romance, and ultimately his payback. Everyone from his lawyer and ex-wife to the District Attorney and the snitch who brought about his demise relate the tale of Nicky Barnes and his call to fame.

New York City in the 1970s was ravaged by heroin — the person, more so, people behind it were Nicky Barnes and his Council. Following the guidelines taught to him by the Italian mob, Barnes learned that every illegal enterprise needed to be run with an iron-fist and every King needed a court. His court, dubbed The Council, was hand-selected by Barnes according to their areas of expertise and his ability to trust each of them.

The cardinal rule in the drug world was to be covert — the less the police knew about you the better. To fly under the radar meant law enforcement would not try to infiltrate the organization with undercover agents, pay snitches for information, or find petty criminals to turn witness. However, Barnes did not follow the subterfuge angle. Dressing loudly, spending wildly, and catching small case after case and ultimately beating them all, Barnes’s antics were noted by the police and now the media. It was at this time that Barnes was nicknamed “Mr. Untouchable.” The law couldn’t touch him and his product could not be touched in terms of quality and accessibility. But, Barnes’s popularity did not stop there, and his behavior dropped him outside of Harlem, outside of New York, and into all of America. Barnes’s face graced the Sunday New York Times magazine in 1977 with the title “This is Nicky Barnes. New York police say he’s the biggest drug dealer in Harlem. But can they prove it?”

Like most great uprisings and reigns, a serious downfall occurs. The aforementioned magazine article was a call to arms for the New York City police force and the District Attorney’s office. Mandated by then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter to make Mr. Untouchable touchable, the plans were set in motion on the annihilation of Barnes and his Council. It is in the downfall of the King and his court that we see the nature of this Godfather, he was his brother’s keeper, so he decided how they should be kept.

Gritty, in-your face, and real, Mr. Untouchable made me shake my head in disgust and amusement. Yes, Nicky Barnes was the leader of a vicious group of criminals, but his rationalization of his actions and his strength while doing them made you root for him. I believed that he had a reason for doing what he did; I applauded when the police could not find dirt on him, and I nodded my head in assent when he snitched out his brethren. Would I see this film again? Hell, yeah! Will my opinions of Nicky Barnes change? Possibly! But that is what makes this documentary awesome — for the briefest moment in time, I could see why an ex-junkie, heroin kingdom ruling, murderous womanizer could have my support and sympathy.

Mr. Untouchable provides excellent historical background for the upcoming big-budget, star-laden movie interpretation American Gangster, for which the part of Nicky Barnes is played by Cuba Gooding Jr. Let’s see if Gooding can in any way represent this sympathetic, but villainous character. Based on Gooding’s history he has a 50-50 chance. But, he should be able to accomplish it, after all he’s not the one with the million dollar contract on his head, the real Nicky Barnes is.

1 Comment »

  1. I really want to see this one. Great review.

    Comment by Jerry — October 23, 2007 @ 10:32 pm

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