Catching Out

There's a distinct countercultural allure to the hobo lifestyle, that most romantic and romanticized form of vagrancy. Sarah George's lushly shot, evocatively scored documentary Catching Out buys into the romance of hobo life completely, mythologizing contemporary hobos as a dying breed of all-American iconoclasts who bravely opt out of a materialistic, hyper-competitive society. To the modern hobos profiled in the film, riding the rails is more than just a way to get from one place to another. It's a way of life, a calling, and the foundation of an alternative community dedicated to preserving a lifestyle most associated with the bad old days of the Great Depression. Late in the film, Catching Out's surliest hobo rails against the media, going so far as to call the filmmakers into question, but his cynicism seems misplaced: George's love-fest is so relentlessly sympathetic that it could double as a hobo recruitment film. If anything, Catching Out is too kind: It depicts life on the rails as a veritable hobotopia, free from the corrupting influences of life in a capitalist society. George seems content to let the film's subjects tell their own stories, but interviews with railroad workers and/or railroad cops would undoubtedly help place the hobos' lives in a broader social context, as well as provide a much-needed outsider's perspective. A mere 75 minutes long, Catching Out follows too many hobos to provide for much depth, and not enough hobos to allow for much diversity of attitude. George's affection for her subjects and her need to contradict negative images are understandable, but by presenting only positive images of hobos enamored of the lifestyle, the film feels myopic and one-sided. Catching Out could stand to be half an hour longer, which speaks to both its scruffy charm and its frustrating inability to dig beneath the surface.

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