MOVIE REVIEW: ‘The Overnighters’ Is One Of The Year’s Best Films


Film: The Overnighters
Starring: Jay Reinke, Keegan Edward
Directed by: Jesse Moss

On the surface, The Overnighters looks like any other tale of someone doing whatever they can to help those whom the rest of a community forgot. In reality however, the latest film from Jesse Moss explores the reality of the North Dakota oil boom and the bad things that sometimes happen to people with only the best of intentions.

North Dakota has become a hot spot for job seeking Americans looking to get themselves out of money-related troubles. The age of fracking has brought the fastest growing economy in the nation to the state, along with numerous six-figure jobs that can be claimed by seemingly anyone who is willing to do the hard work associated with helping maintain our nation’s love affair with oil. The problem is, there are far more people looking for work than available jobs, and as even more people enter the state looking for employment there is a limited amount of homes, trailer parks, apartments, and shelters to house those unable to find work. Many even end up on the street, which in turn causes problems for the once small towns they have begun to inhabit.

Amidst all this chaos, Lutheran pastor Jay Reinke offers down-on-their-luck emigrants a place to sleep inside his church while they acclimate. These people, whom he labels as ‘overnighters,’ have come from all corners of the country hoping for a fresh start. The town looks down upon this, but Reinke believes he is doing what his lord would do. “The people arriving on our doorsteps are gifts to us,” Reinke says in the film. “Not only are these men my neighbors, the people who don’t want them here are also my neighbors.”

The town never agrees with Reinke, and over the course of The Overnighters the tension between his good intentions and the town’s desire to kick out those who are not contributing to the better good slowly begins to boil over. The film may have set out to portray one man’s attempt to show compassion to others in a time when everyone seems concerned for themselves, but it becomes a document of a man struggling to understand why his efforts to do what he believes in the lord will continuously falls on deaf ears.

Reinke is not perfect however, and over the course of the film he makes mistakes. Some are bigger than others, but they accumulate all the same and, ultimately, they all come back around before the credits roll. There is a strange sense of impending doom running throughout the film, and as the second half begins to wind down the reason for those suspicions is made heartbreakingly clear.

The story alone is enough to make The Overnighters a must see, but it’s made even better by the fact Moss has a eye for capturing the beauty of North Dakota that makes everything pop. Most of what is being told involves day to day experiences, but with careful editing and fluid camera work Moss manages to make even the most mundane moments feel alive. Documentaries do not necessarily need this kind of stylistic twist to work, but it certainly helps keep the images and messages fresh in your mind.

It’s hard to talk about the rest of The Overnighters without giving away many of the surprises waiting within the film. What I will say, is that everyone who has ever felt like their best attempts to make the world a better place were a waste or otherwise foolish because of others will feel a deep connection to Reinke and his efforts. He is just as flawed as any other human, but through everything that happens in the film he puts his family, the people looking for work, and the people of his community before himself. Some may disagree, but I think the world needs more of that, and The Overnighters offers an incredibly rare look at a possible reason why more people do not go out of their way for others.

See this movie. Even if you hate documentaries, make time for this film. It will move you in a very deep and lasting way if you give it a chance.


Review written by James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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