Mr. Untouchable


Interspersed with quotes from Machiavelli, blaxploitation anthems, non sequitur B-roll footage of New York City in the ’70s, and the occasional black-and-white dramatization, Mr. Untouchable is a fascinating first-person account of drug kingpin and ruthless gangster Nicky Barnes, whose outrageous story of rise, rule, rage, and revenge requires no such stylistic filler. Called everything from the Al Capone of Harlem to the titular moniker—by which he was christened in a New York Times Magazine cover story that led, some argue, to his downfall—Barnes (who is portrayed by Cuba Gooding Jr. in the upcoming true-crime opus American Gangster) has been a member of the witness-protection program since 1998, after giving up every one of the henchmen (and henchwomen) in his multimillion-dollar heroin empire. Shown in either master-of-the-universe silhouette or from the (expensively cuff-linked) wrists down, Barnes tells his story alongside an impressive number of the players, from the former “council” members that he helped put in jail to the reporters, DEA informants, police officers, and prosecutors who put him there first. Also on hand is Barnes’s defense attorney of yore, David “Mighty Whitey” Breitbart, whose attitude encapsulates the uneasy balance that this film strikes between telling the straight story and glorifying a stone-cold snake in the grass. Still bragging about getting his client off for murder and drug trafficking all these years later, Breitbart recalls being made an “honorary nigger” for his trouble with a glee that would take the spring out of even Superfly’s step.