Mr. Untouchable (Magnolia Pictures) is a film about Leroy “Nicky” Barnes, a former junkie at age fourteen, who in 1965 was sent to prison for low level drug dealing. He later overcame his addiction when released from prison and became one of the biggest heroin kingpins in Harlem during the 1970’s. Director Marc Levine uses black and white footage, personal photos, news clippings, interviews of Nicky’s associates (known as The Council) and federal officials to tell this urban legend’s story. Musical accompaniment from the likes of James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, War, and Barry White, just to name a few, set the vibe for the audience to indulge in a retro-perspective birds eye view of the dope game that infiltrated Harlem World.
Leroy “Nicky” Barnes narrates the film; systematically sharing his philosophy of premises, rules, fallacies, and arguments to engage the audience with the use of deductive and inductive reasoning to explain the empire he created.Levin unveils Barnes (who is now in the FBI witness protection program) identity with dark silhouette head shots, seated behind a boardroom desk, and exposing tight camera shots of his hands (a gold Rolex watch on wrist, pinky ring on finger, fancy cuff links) caressing money stacks and a bullet while reciting his street philosophy and referencing from books by Niccolo Machiavilli and Herman Melville. Levin restrains from glorifying Barnes’ world, yet the film embodies the life of an American gangster. The crux of the story unfolds when Barnes decides to pose for a 1977 New York Times Magazine cover story that dubbed him as “Mr. Untouchable.” Barnes was eventually prosecuted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. After his conviction, Barnes questions the foundation of his empire, which consisted of a seven man crew known as “The Council.” They lived by a code or rules, one being the oath of brotherhood. “Treat My Brother As I Treat Myself.” Marc Levin stylistically neutralizes himself and gives the audience an opportunity to judge Barnes actions to turn states evidence against 70 – 80 of his closest associates. Was it an act of revenge? As defined in the dictionary, Revenge is primarily of retaliation against a person or group in response to a perceived wrongdoing which is a concept of justice. Was it street justice carried out by Barnes? Justice can be divided into two broad fields. Distributive justice is concerned with the proper allocation of good things – wealth, power, reward, respect – between different people. Retributive justice is concerned with the proper response to wrongdoing.After carefully reviewing the film the audience may ask, why would Barnes posture himself with the likes of Machiavilli, or use examples from Moby Dick to justify his means of revenge? As a legal debate, Levin questions how justice was served. Greek philosophers, conceive justice as a virtuea property of the people, and only derivatively of their actions and the institutions they create.No matter which side you stand on the overblown snitching debate, Mr. Untouchable is a must-see film.