Actions have consequences.
419 is the number of the Nigerian penal code for fraud. The famous ‘Nigerian Prince’ scheme is a something for nothing scam that has stolen millions of dollars from people all over the world since the early ’80s. Using emails, thieves send out messages to a large number of addresses asking the email recipient for help getting a wealthy prince or princess out of some type of legal problem, and in return you will receive a large percentage of the money. Sure you will. While Nigeria seems to be the center of these kinds of scams, they can originate from anywhere in the world.
Mike (Mike Ivers) is a struggling actor, who befriends a very charismatic man named Lebogang while filming a commercial in South Africa. When Mike returns to the states Lebo contacts him and explains that he is expecting an inheritance from an uncle, but because of an old South African law, he is unable to get the money. Lebo tells Mike if he invests some cash to help get this inheritance, Lebo will give Mike 10% of what he receives. Sounds good, right? Wrong. Mike ends up being scammed for $30,000. Frustrated and depressed, his two best buds, Scott (Scott Kerns) and Ned (Ned Thorne), decide to help Mike out of his doldrums by funding a trip to South Africa so Mike can find this scam artist, and if not get his money back, at least get some closure on the whole ordeal. But things go horribly wrong, and when the dust settles Mike, Ned, and Scott might lose much more than just money.
PT Barnum knew of what he spoke when he said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” In the film 419 that ‘sucker’ is a bartender/actor named Mike. Mike’s the kind of guy who meets someone and in ten minutes they’re the best of friends, which is how he got into his current financial mess. The man who used the ‘Nigerian 419 Scam” on Mike took advantage of his premature trust and raging ego to cheat the struggling actor out of a lot of money.
But Mike’s choices just keep getting better after he convinces Scott and Ned to travel all the way to South Africa on the word of another sketchy local, Ezra (Ezra Mabengeza), an ex-con who says he knows Lebo and will help the trio find him. It’s not clear at first if Ezra can be trusted, and Scott and Ned are a bit leery of the man who seems to be driving them around in circles with no definitive plan on how to find this Lebo character. But they believe Mike when he says old Ezra won’t lead ’em astray. Well what do ya know, we have two more of those suckers that PT Barnum was talking about.
419 is a found footage film — but wait! Even though these types of films have been made by the dozens since 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, 419 brings something interesting to an otherwise stale format. For one thing, the reason there’s a camera constantly around is legitimized by Mike’s buddy Ned, who is a documentary filmmaker who wants to capture the trip and use the footage for a perspective movie. Ned films pre and post trip interviews with Mike and Scott, he also gets the opinions of his girlfriend, Cara (Cara Loften), and Scott’s love, Emilea (Emilea Wilson). Both women think the trip is a mistake, and that Mike is too unreliable to trust. All the interviews set the tone for the film, and are cleverly interspersed with footage from the friends’ journey. As the film progresses, Ned’s camera becomes a character in and of itself, especially in those moments when Ned sets the camera down, as it appears to detach itself from the group and objectively records what’s going on in the scene.
Another reason 419 works is because of the stellar acting by a cast of virtual unknowns who improvise their dialogue based on an outline written by the film’s director and editor, Ned Thorne. Thorne did an excellent job of creating a story then allowing his actors to mold their characters around that idea; the results feel like genuine interchanges between the characters that give the film a depth and a realism I did not expect.
The performances by each actor are spot on, in particular Mike Ivers is wonderful as the arrogant, narcissistic man/boy who has a tendency to feel sorry for himself — a lot. Even though Mike is a thoroughly obnoxious creature, he is blessed with two good friends who put up with his utter self-centeredness and offer to fund this ill-advised trip to South Africa. Scott Kerns is solid as the level headed and successful friend. He has his life on track and wants to help Mike because Scott fears that Mike has fallen into a bit of a depression. Because Ned is the camera man, he’s not on screen as much as the other two, still he is pivotal to the movie, a mediator of sorts between Mike and Scott who’s friendship begins to unravel on the trip.
Mike truly believes that he’ll find this Lebo guy, kick his ass, and get his money back. Good luck with that. Scott and Ned do their darnedest to keep their hot headed friend from getting out of control, but it’s Mike’s impulsiveness that got him into this mess, and in the end it is that same thoughtless nature that puts his life and the lives of his friends in jeopardy.
This DVD is a 1.78:1 standard def widescreen presentation. It’s a found footage film, so the clarity isn’t great, but it works because of the type of movie it is. There’s a grainy quality even in the daytime shots, and some scenes are so dark it’s hard make out what’s happening. If you have even the slightest tendency toward motion sickness, watch with a bucket close by. My husband had to turn away several times because of the shaking of the handheld camera. Still, he enjoyed the overall movie. The Stereo audio is fairly clear, but because of the nature of the filming, lots of ambient noises are picked up by the mics; however, this doesn’t adversely affect the clarity of the dialogue.
It’s a different case with the original short for 419 that’s included in the extras. It has major sound issues which are a definite distraction. At times the wind is the most present sound, overpowering the dialogue, and in the interview portions the volume is far too low. Besides the short, there are deleted scenes, behind the scenes photos, and the film’s trailer.
I hold fast and true to the rule that people suck (at least some of the time…maybe most of the time), myself included. 419 shows us the depths criminals will go to remove a fool from his or her money. It’s an age old lesson, but a solid one: If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.