Mr. Untouchable (2007)

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Released 6-May-2009

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Deleted Scenes
Trailer-Madman Propaganda
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2007
Running Time 92:00
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Marc Levin
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Leroy 'Nicky' Barnes
Thelma Grant
Carol Hawkins-Williams
Joseph Jazz Hayden
Leon Scrap Batts
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI ? Music Hi-Tek


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    It is fair to say that without the recent Ridley Scott film American Gangster few would have been aware of the existence of African American organized crime. Sure there were stylized flicks like New Jack City and any number of films about black hoods. But, for many, American Gangster was the first revelation that alongside the Mafia and the Asian triads were "The Council", a group of blacks in big time organized crime.

Without that film this documentary may never have seen wide distribution. American Gangster was about narcotics kingpin Frank Lucas. This film concentrates on Nicky Barnes (played relatively fleetingly by Cuba Gooding jr in American Gangster) and his rise and fall from power.

In fact, the epicentre of his power and the seeds of his destruction were sown pretty much at the same time. In 1977 the New York Times magazine featured an iconic shot of Barnes with the moniker Mr Untouchable. It was a reflection of the difficulty in pinning down this most slippery gangster but also a direct challenge to law enforcement agencies to get busy bringing him down. His fall was rapid and hard.

The film Mr Untouchable paints a detailed picture of the highs and lows of the narcotics trade in the US in the 70's. Heroin was the drug of choice and, by using statistics, the film shows that with each passing year the level of addicts rose exponentially and with it the profits of the dealers. Nicky Barnes had a simple but effective technique. Buy the best drugs from the Italians and then distribute it direct to the market. Cut out the middleman. An early stint in prison introduced him to the crims who would form his team but also to The Prince by Machiavelli. The influence of the book on him was profound and throughout this documentary are sprinklings of the dark wisdom that would guide Barnes through his career. My favourite? "Uneasy is the head that wears the crown". Barnes was renowned for his ruthlessness in dispatching rivals and traitors and anyone who looked like they might become one or the other.

The film mixes interviews with a myriad of those caught up in the drug trade in the 70's from all sides. DEA officers, District Attorneys, police officers, ex-wives, gang members and even the mob lawyer are thrown into the mix. The real coup of the film, however, are the interviews with the man himself. After his arrest and sentence to life without parole Barnes, depending on your point of view, either wreaked vengeance on those who betrayed him or simply ratted out everyone he formerly called friend. Leastways he is out of prison and in the witness protection programme. For this reason we see Barnes only in semi-darkness, hiding his face, or in elaborate set-ups showing just his hands. The filmmakers have given little character clues to these scenes with piles of money, drugs or a bullet as a mini-backdrop.

The film works best as a snapshot of the time when heroin ruled and devastated the streets of America. Unlike the recent documentary on Mike Tyson, Mr Untouchable the man never gives up his soul. He remains a cold, hard criminal who can apply hard logic to each of his decisions. It is also not hard to get the feeling that this was a man who lacked the audacity of Frank Lucas, who brought in his drugs via coffins from Vietnam, but was rather just a simple hardened killer who adopted a workmanlike but extremely successful approach to the drug trade. Like all films with difficult subjects Mr Untouchable veers between revulsion and veneration of the man with the plan. It does not shy away from showing the effect of the drug trade - glitzy clothes contrasted with stumbling back-alley addicts.

All in all the film is very watchable if a little light on for examination of the soul of this man. Maybe he never had one?

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Mr Untouchable uses a variety of sources to tell its story. Digital video, old news footage and old film in a variety of aspect ratios. The whole is packaged into a 1.85:1 transfer which is 16x9 enhanced.

The interview footage of cops, crims and DA's is clear, crisp and bright with no technical defects. The footage of modern day Nicky Barnes himself is of similar quality, where it is focussing on his hands, however the full body shots are necessarily soft and blurry to avoid identification of the man currently under police protection.

The other, historical, footage varies in quality according to the age of the source although it could be described as generally poor. This is no distraction - it adds to the ability of the film to take us back into the nightclubs where white suits, canes and fur hats were all the rage. Therefore this footage displays all the hallmarks of age with artefacts aplenty. Trust me - when a man struts into a nightclub with a fur coat and a red fur hat you don't want the colours too sharp!

There are no subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
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Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The sound for Mr Untouchable is English Dolby Digital 2.0 running at 224Kb/s.

This is perfectly adequate for the film.

Dialogue is pretty clear throughout.

Although there are no subtitles the bits where the crims are secretly taped do have their own subtitles as they would be unintelligible without.

The big bonus for 70's music fans is the soundtrack which features more wakka wakka's than you can point your disco stick at! No surprise that Curtis Mayfield dominates - Pusherman, Superfly and others. It is the music that energised New York and came from Harlem. The main theme is by rapper/producer Hi-Tek. It is catchy and sounds all the world like a theme from one of the Grand Theft Auto video games.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Deleted Scenes

Mr Untouchable has only one real extra. The film has 75 minutes of deleted scenes. Whilst that may seem like an extraordinary gift there are some severe limitations. The extra material is not divided or indexed in any way. It consists of extended interview footage with the main participants. Though the additional insight adds to the establishment of the character of the times it is too diffuse to be essential and I doubt many viewers will stay the distance.

Trailers

A selection of trailers, including Cocaine Cowboys, for similarly themed Madman Entertainment products.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This DVD is sold in an identical format in other Regions.

Summary

    Mr Untouchable is a fascinating entry into the dark world of drugs in the 70's. Seeing the mean streets of New York overrunning with crime makes it doubly amazing that it took less than a generation to clean up Manhattan. No doubt having a rat like Nicky Barnes dobbing in countless crime lords was a good start! My hesitation about lauding this film is that it comes off as halfway between a tribute and an expose.

The video an audio quality are fine and appropriate and the extra is weighty if a little hard going.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Friday, August 21, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer BDP-LX70A Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayPioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR605
SpeakersJBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer

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