Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Movie Review - The Overnighters

The Overnighters (2014)
Directed by Jesse Moss
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

I've been fairly lax on my documentary intake of 2014 films, but they'll be a couple popping up here before the RyMickey Awards begin in September.  The Overnighters tells the tale of Jay Reinke, pastor at the Concordia Lutheran Church in Williston, North Dakota.  In recent years, North Dakota has become the state with the highest rise in its economy thanks to hydraulic fracturing technology -- fracking -- unlocking enormous oil fields.  Tens of thousands of down-on-their-luck Americans head to the state, but many of these new arrivals have nowhere to sleep and that's where Pastor Jay comes in, offering men the opportunity to sleep in his church hall and the church parking lot.  While his good deed would seem to be innocent enough, Jay's parishioners and the townsfolk of Williston aren't all happy with these out-of-towners invading especially seeing as how some of "the overnighters" (as they're termed) have seedy pasts.

The Overnighters is an interesting look at small town Americana and whether the religious doctrine "love thy neighbor" can be truly realized in a small community.  Pastor Jay himself is a bit of a flawed character, finding it difficult to fully balance his family life, religious life, and "overnighter" life, but his commitment to what he feels his right with his overnighter program trumps everything.  And it may end up being his ultimate downfall if the townsfolk have their way.

Rather oddly, the film takes a sharp 180-degree turn in its final ten minutes.  Granted, with this being a documentary, director Jesse Moss didn't quite know where his real-life subject would take him, but the inclusion of this feels a bit odd and an unfitting coda to all we've seen before.  What was once a film that had Pastor Jay at the center but was really about the people the pastor was helping and the community that was against him shifts squarely onto Pastor Jay himself and it's a bit of a disconcerting notion.

This unfortunate end perhaps unfairly tarnishes The Overnighters as it ends what was otherwise a solid story on a disappointing note.  This one ends up being lukewarm as opposed to worth-watching.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

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