out of Five
Running time: 76
12 O’Clock Boys is a captivating and nail-bitingly tense documentary that provides a stellar account of Baltimore’s urban dirt-bike gang, but the music and editing aren’t quite up to scratch.
What’s it all about?
Written and directed by Lofty Nathan, 12 O’Clock Boys tells the true coming-of-age story of Pug, a wisecracking teen from a dangerous Westside Baltimore block, whose ultimate dream is to join the 12 O’Clock Boys, the city’s notorious urban dirt-bike gang. Called the 12 O’Clock Boys because of their inclination to ride their bikes on their back wheels, the perilous gang invade the streets on a daily basis, causing approximately 10-15 deaths each summer and constantly clashing with the police, who operate a ‘no-chase policy’ for fear of putting the general public in danger. Filmed over three years, 12 O’Clock Boys follows Pug’s journey from an innocent but determined 13 year old with a hero worship for the illegal gang into a tattooed, weed-smoking troublemaker who causes great distress to his vivacious single mother, Coco.
The economically depressed city of Baltimore lives up to its reputation in this engaging documentary that’s jam-packed with action and eventful scenes. The jaw-dropping clips exposing the 12 O’Clock Boys brutal attitudes towards the Baltimore police are wholly absorbing to watch and the slow-motion shots of the boys riding through town on their dirt bikes are enormously attractive.
Lofty Nathan may only be 26, but this directorial debut shows evidence of a more seasoned director and promises great things for the New York-based filmmaker. Filmed with a unique compassion for its characters, 12 O’Clock Boys is rather mesmeric and those who’ve watched The Wire will particularly admire Nathan’s honest portrayal of gritty Baltimore life. As the film’s core character, Pug is incredibly endearing and to watch his innocence become tarnished over the years isn’t exactly easy, particularly as Nathan pays so much attention to his brazen single mother Coco and her helplessness and struggle to control the rebellious teen.
The editing is not quite as smooth as it should be and some of the music feels a little out of place, but there’s no denying that 12 O’Clock Boys’ portrayal of dangerous urban life and its portrait of one boy’s journey to find his place in it is a poignant and huge success.
12 O’Clock Boys is an action-packed and expressive documentary that provides an engaging and frank account of Baltimore’s urban dirt-bike gang. Highly recommended.