Broken, desperate men chase their dreams and run from their demons in the North Dakota oil fields. A local Pastor risks everything to help them.
Directed by Jesse Moss
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
- The Overnighters is overflowing with depth and nuance - Jon
- Reinke's story is a reminder that when you bear a cross, you usually get crucified - Lane
- This movie captured, in the best way possible, the dichotomy of clergy life - Blair
Williston may survive the fracking revolution, thanks to the oil crash slowing growth to a manageable level, but the story of its flawed pastor is humanity in all its contradictions and cross purposes. If the equally-excellent doc Man on Wire can be made into a feature movie, I fully expect The Overnighters, starring Matt Damon (or Michael Shannon if Damon's too expensive), to be released in 2019. Director Jesse Moss hit the jackpot with this guy. A capital-C Christian doing his best to live like Jesus would, while the people that pay his salary and support his family work against his mission. A man who asks himself, "Who is my neighbor and how can I serve him," and is wracked by his neighbors' having counter intentions. Then, Moss throws in the twist of his 'same-sex attraction' and the likelihood that he was using the opportunity to house these men as titillation and an outright source of sex. Public strength and private weakness, loving support from a family built on a lie, the mission versus the reality of charity, plus all the larger economic and sociological factors; The Overnighters is overflowing with depth and nuance.
The distance between a minister's calling to live as Christ-like as possible and the duty to shepherd parishioners who are less devoted is the most apparent theme, and I very much look forward to what our pastor members have to say. The vast chasm separating Reinke and his flock is uncrossable, and it appears that no amount of scripture can change their minds. They state how un-Christian their feelings towards the migrants are, but have those feelings anyway. Why are these people even Christian in the first place? Why is ministering to the needy less important than the cleanliness of the church? Reinke is repeatedly asked by the migrants to reconcile the mission of the church with Williston's overall sentiment towards them, and he has very little to say. The tribalism on display is shocking. An atheist organization got a lot of traction with a billboard that stated, "You know it's not true." It was aimed at the kind of cafeteria, cultural Catholics that just go through the motions without any conviction, much like the citizens of Williston on display. Just leave the church already if you have no interest in what it preaches. Isn't your apathy just making god angry?
In contrast to his congregation, Reinke comes off like a saint, and the eventual feature adaptation may stick with that straighforward depiction. His reality is far more flawed and therefore more true and resonant. Reinke himself questions why he's doing what he's doing. Is it just to raise his self-esteem, possibly in the dumps because he's in a sham marriage? Is it penance for his presumed sins? He is a ball of cognitive dissonance, someone who is doing good in public and betraying his family in private. He convinces migrants that he has their best interests at heart, and then casts them out when he can no longer support them. Ultimately, does the handful of migrants he treated poorly wash out the hundreds who would view him as a savior? Reinke's internal struggle and his various blind spots come out so clearly onscreen. That interrogation of his actions, more than anything else, is what made him so appealing to me as a person.
In second fiddle, the migrants make less of an impression, but a significant one all the same. Moss runs the gamut as far as types are concerned. The two sex offenders are most compelling, as they speak to a deeper punishment inflicted on them beyond their time served. For those interested in the public's deep and irrational hysteria around sex criminals, I would recommend a million times over the documentary Capturing the Friedman's. The frontier calls specifically to men like these with checkered pasts, and there still isn't a place for them. I don't exactly know what to do about that, but it makes them both deeply sympathetic. The emotional roller-coaster the younger migrant goes on is fit for its own movie, as he follows a standard arc of discovery followed by achievement followed by status quo ante. The older migrant with the disintegrating marriage hit hard, as his endeavor was doomed from the start. He could've been unemployed with his family, or have the dignity of work in solitude, and ultimately gets neither. The motor-mouthed man who plainly had meth experience gave the viewer an example of someone that doesn't get to sleep in the church, a decision that clearly wracked Reinke but was the right one to make. The ending montage of migrants opened the floodgates. Immigrants searching for security in America affects me deeply, as it reminds me of the promise of the West instead of its myriad failures and hypocrisies.
The townspeople and parishioners occupy the least amount of time. I might consider this a problem of representation, but I do not. Whatever his motivations, Reinke is so clearly in the right, and their petty concerns about cleanliness and the smoothness of weekly services and the vague specter of crime did not strike me as valid. Wouldn't crime surely escalate if dozens of previously-safe migrants suddenly found themselves without a place to sleep? Moss includes that seemingly out-of-place scene of the local teen rednecks catching birds with fishing hooks. I can imagine criticism from that vantage, that he makes them look like rubes, but they were catching birds with fishing hooks. The citizenry are surely experiencing skyrocketing inflation and property taxes, and their environment is being irrevocably altered for the worse, so they're deserving of sympathy, too, but not at the expense of the migrants.
I loved the Overnighters as a character study and as a piece of journalism capturing this one layered moment in America. A modern day gold rush happening in the heartland, with a saintly but conflicted pastor fighting his community. Moss emerges into the top tier of working documentarians with an incredible amount of access and a timeless, universal story. I'm an atheist who will never come back to Christianity, but if there were more Reinke's, even with all his faults, it wouldn't be such a hateful proposition. A