Film Review: 12 O’Clock Boys

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Biking as a Way Out? Maybe…

12 O’Clock Boys is a little documentary with a lot to say. It primarily follows Pug, at the film’s start a 13 year-old troublemaker, who gets lured into a group of illegal dirt-bikers. They call themselves the 12 O’Clock boys for their extended vertical wheelies and dangerous balancing acts, weaving precariously through their urban Baltimore streets. They bike in a group of sometimes 50 members, disobeying traffic regulations and speed limits. For them, this is a spiritual, liberating weekly activity.

For the police, it poses serious problems. Squad cars are not allowed to chase the bikers to prevent any further crashes or injuries, so helicopters circle their nightly renegades to track them down. Lofty Nathan, directing his first feature-length film, works to expose both perspectives. You may have an immediate reaction and opinion about these riders’ stunts and subsequent pursuit by authorities. But it’s not because Nathan gives you one.

You get intimate points of view instead. Nathan mimics the bikers’ eye lines speeding through the streets on an incline. He creates a shaky ground level perspective by dangling himself out of his car, treading rubber parallel with these road demons. You feel like you’re riding along with the group. There are some beautiful slow motion shots, too, as though these men and young boys are superheroes in their broken towns. One of them actually calls himself Superman.

And these are mythical figures in a way. As they sporadically barrel down highways and alleys, they are greeted on sidewalks by hordes of onlookers, camera phones aimed in their direction. The group gets affirmation from YouTube hits, and their stunts are just as much about the thrill of spectacle as they are marketing.

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Pug, our young budding moto-star, desperately tries to fit into this lifestyle, much to the dismay of his single mother. She lost her first son Tibba, and is now losing her second one to the streets, getting lost within the messy, inner city. School and structure appears to lose its priority and Pug, over the three years Nathan follows him, starts feeling like a lost cause.

You want to see Pug succeed, and break out of this lifestyle. At one point he mentions how much he loves where he lives based on the fact that Baltimore rarely receives any natural disasters. But of course what he doesn’t see is the systemic poverty that continues to grow in his neighborhood. It’s something even a former dirt biker, now the group’s protective agent, Steve, explains can cripple the community. Pug loves animals and had dreams to become a veterinarian. Later, after his passion for riding has continued to grow, he rejects his original aspiration.

Hopefully he sees riding as a fad. But, as other talking heads and policemen explain, this is how eggs turn bad. The bikes are dangerous, but lacking family, structure, and guidance is much more. The news reports, the death toll, and the vitriol toward police continue to increase. The power and dialogue we get isn’t mined, it’s just observed. By the end of this 72-minute peek, Pug has his bike stolen and Nathan helps him reclaim it. We don’t see how things turn out. But we know that Pug has grown up from his teen adoration. He’s fallen victim to becoming another hardened young man.

4/5

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