If you happen to be familiar with East Coast rap music, you will have heard the moniker “Mr. Untouchable” in the lyrics of artists ranging from 50 Cent to the late Biggie Smalls, referring to the real-life ‘70s-era drug kingpin Leroy “Nicky” Barnes. The title was first used in a 1977 New York Times Magazine article by Fred Ferretti that brought Barnes, a one-time junkie who eventually became the biggest drug dealer on the East Coast, to national prominence—and the beginning of his downfall.
This, and a good deal more, is chronicled in well-documented detail in the documentary that bears the same title. What is most intriguing in the film are the words, indeed the presence, of Barnes himself. Barnes went into the federal witness protection program in 1986 after supplying evidence and testimony that imprisoned a good many of his mob associates, government officials, friends and even his wife and the mother of his children—several of whom are still there.
Also coming soon to theatres is American Gangster, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Denzel Washington, in which Barnes is played by Cuba Gooding Jr. Washington plays John Lucas, another connected gangster from the era. There is apparently some dispute as to which of these iconic ‘70s figures was the preeminent black drug dealer of the day. This documentary may not put that issue to rest, but one expects there will be another feature film in the works based on this material soon. Perhaps Tony Scott will direct.
Cast: Leroy Barnes, Thelma Grant, Joseph Hayden, Jackie Hayden, Leon Batts, Carol Williams, Frank James, David Breitbart, Don Ferrarone, Louie Diaz, Bobby Nieves, Robert Geronimo, Robert Fiske Jr., Thomas Sear, Benito Romano, Louie Jones and Fred Ferretti
Director: Marc Levin
Producers: Mary-Jane Robinson, Alex Gibney, Jason Kliot and Joana Vicente
Rating: R for pervasive drug content, strong language, some violent images and brief nudity
Running time: 92 min.
Release date: October 26, 2007 NY/LA