12 O'Clock Boys: Film Review

This visually stunning, thematically complex documentary will stir up a wide range of reactions.

Lotfy Nathan's lyrical documentary explores a young boy's fascination with a group of daredevil urban dirt bikers.

Filming his titular subjects in a lyrical style that makes their dangerous stunts seem oh-so-cool, filmmaker Lotfy Nathan evocatively illustrates the allure that the 12 O’Clock Boys might have for a rebellious young adolescent. This documentary about a gang of dirt bikers who ride in packs through the streets of Baltimore has a poetic quality that adds a fascinating if sometimes disquieting complexity to its sociological underpinnings.

The film centers on Pug, who is filmed for three years as he becomes increasingly enamored of the dirt bike crew whose antics cause consternation among both the city’s citizens and harried police force. Since their behavior is technically not illegal and previous attempts to intervene have resulted in numerous accidents, the police have resorted to a policy of “wait, wait and track,” utilizing helicopters and various technological means to monitor them. Late in the film, an incident in which they do take chase is seen resulting in fatal consequences, illustrating the inherent dangers of the bikers’ frequently reckless behavior.

And yet for Pug, whose mother is a former exotic dancer and whose older brother dies tragically as a result of an asthma attack, the bikers' daredevil stunts — the film’s title refers to their penchant for riding their bikes in a nearly vertical position — are inherently fascinating. His mother desperately hopes that his infatuation will fade and that he will instead pursue his goal of becoming a veterinarian, but the impressionable youth only becomes ever more seduced by the bikers' growing notoriety.

Filming the bikers up close in gorgeous slow motion that only enhances their dangerous allure, Nathan delivers a series of haunting images that basically serve to romanticize their antics. These segments are interspersed with interviews with several of the bikers, whose oft-repeated mantra is “Fuck the police,” and young Pug, who clearly romanticizes their exploits. Numerous excerpts from television news reports demonstrate that the public’s perception is far more jaundiced.

Ultimately, the film, which feels attenuated despite its brief running time, doesn’t dig deep enough to provide more than an impressionistic portrait. It will no doubt garner a wide range of reactions depending on its audiences’ preexisting attitudes and prejudices. But then again, that’s probably the point.

Opens: Friday, Jan. 31 (Oscilloscope Laboratories)

Production: (Mission Films, Prospekt)

Director/director of photography: Lotfy Nathan

Producers: Lotfy Nathan, John Kassab, Eric Blair

Executive producer: Taylor Gillespie

Editor: Thomas Niles

Composer: Joe Williams

Not rated, 75 min.