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Overnighters, The
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by Jay Seaver

"At least asks interesting questions about practicing what you preach."
4 stars

"The Overnighters" starts with economics on-screen and probably could have the same sort of genesis as a project: The fracking-based oil boom in North Dakota brings people there in search of jobs that pay well, but a lack of lodging leaves many still homeless or paying exorbitant rents as supply-and-demand fails to work for everyone. You can still see hints of that wider perspective throughout the film, even though a more intriguingly knotty story has taken center stage.

That would be the case of Jay Reinke, pastor of Williston's Concordia Lutheran Church. Reinke, in an act of Christian charity, has opened the church's doors and parking lot to those seeking work but who do not yet have a place to stay. This is not exactly a popular move to a congregation and community already tending to look at the outsiders arriving as criminally-inclined invaders, and that's before it becomes clear that Reinke is willing to offer a helping hand to even those with very questionable backgrounds.

There are a number of angles filmmaker Jesse Moss could have taken here, from focusing on the cross-section of transient guests of the church that give the film its title to perhaps comparing the environmentally questionable methods used to extract shale oil to what seems like a similarly exploitative way of churning through employees. Pastor Reinke winds up not just being the common thread connecting a number a different narratives, but a figure not seen often enough in movies not specifically made for a Christian audience: A man who takes Jesus's exhortations to charity and forgiveness seriously, and is willing to make personal sacrifices or take personal risks to that end. There's a cheerful sincerity to his voice that can sound naĆÆve or put-on to those who don't encounter that personality type regularly, although he seems genuine most of the time.

And the moments that perhaps seem a little off are not entirely because Reinke may be trying to put up any sort of faƧade. Moss, over the course of what appears to be roughly a year of filming, is apparently able to gain enough trust from his subjects that he can capture some moments that many might balk at allowing to be filmed. Even taking that into consideration, though, there are a lot of times when Ross not only seems to get great, story-making scenes, but on-the-nose connective tissue, without the gasp other documentaries sometimes seem to let out when they stumble upon something big. It's at times an odd feeling, a fly-on-the-wall documentary where the filmmaker can see that path things will take ahead of time, or how his presence altered the way they played out.

Not that those events were wholly unpredictable; there's nothing here that goes against basic human nature. Moss does a fine job of keeping things level, working with editor Jeff Seymann Gilbert to make sure that, even if the viewer's sympathies are generally with Reinke, his opponents are not simply represented as horrifically prejudiced people. The wider context of the film being about these workers is also never truly lost, with parts of the end of the film serving as a reminder that this church's issues are hardly the only concerns with coming to North Dakota to work. In some ways, that works as a better coda than the tail end of Reinke's story, which is apparently rather abrupt even if I suspect one scene was put in to foreshadow it.

And yet, it's perhaps fitting that a documentary that often follows a fairly predictable arc takes a harsh right turn; life doesn't boil down to a simple issue. "The Overnighters" may sometimes feel haphazardly put together, with Moss showing his hand quite clearly, but it's still an interesting story about practicing what one preaches for all that.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=26041&reviewer=371
originally posted: 01/13/15 23:40:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Chicago Critics Film Festival For more in the 2014 Chicago Critics Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Nashville Film Festival For more in the 2014 Nashville Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival For more in the 2014 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival series, click here.
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival For more in the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 AFI Docs Festival For more in the 2014 AFI Docs Festival series, click here.

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USA
  10-Oct-2014
  DVD: 03-Feb-2015

UK
  N/A

Australia
  10-Oct-2014
  DVD: 03-Feb-2015


Directed by
  Jesse Moss

Written by
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Cast
  (documentary)



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