Knowing the hyperbolic nature of what I am about to say, The Overnighters may be one of the more unique moviegoing experiences I have had in recent memory. The movie's protagonist draws you in with his openness and his optimism, more than most fictitiously created characters I can recall seeing recently. He brings in those who may be banking on hope and optimism of a new life, and he vouches for them and cares for them. He does this in spite of mounting odds against his cause and by the end of the movie, which runs at a taut 107 minutes, you are left wanting so much more for the movie and for the man, all of whom are real characters in this documentary.
The Overnighters in set in Williston, located in the northwestern portion of North Dakota. A new source of oil has attracted the attention of hundreds of workers from across the globe, who set out for Willison by any means of travel they can in the hopes of finding a job out there, something the area is in apparent need for. This is where Jay Reinke comes into play. Reinke is the Pastor of the Concordia Lutheran Church in Williston. He has a wife and several children, and he is a believer in helping out his fellow man. He lets those who come to Williston looking for work to stay in his church. Some sleep on the floor, others on cots. Those who cannot get into the church are allowed to sleep in the RVs they may have drove to Williston, others sleep in cars. On rare instances, Reinke will allow someone to stay at his house with his family. He encounters mounting criticism and opposition to this from the town, and eventually the opposition takes turns that damage his hopes and his family.
The film was directed by Jesse Moss, who spent large amounts of time over the course of 18 months with Reinke shooting the film. He manages to capture moments of compassion for others that one does not see often. A man comes to him on the verge of tears because of dealing with his struggles with substance abuse while trying to hold onto his religion. When he tells Reinke that he was born because his mother was raped, Reinke pauses, then gives him a hug. It lasts for a long time, but it is easy to see why. This guy in front of Reinke could use it. Reinke is willing to work with those who come to his door however he can.
Those who spent time around Reinke tend to share his optimism and belief in his fellow man. A man named Alan helps Reinke with introducing the Overnighters to the process whether it is in the church or in the parking lot, claiming to have turned down a job paying more than $50,000 a year to do so. Alan's story is one of several Overnighters we experience in the movie, where men leave their homes and families for the hope that comes for even the possibility of opportunity. Comparisons to The Grapes of Wrath have been made when it comes to this film and it is easy to see why when it comes to the lengths that people will go to get to North Dakota to do something, ANYTHING, for themselves or their families.
Sadly, the promise of the Overnighters ‘program' is overshadowed by the past that those who have come to North Dakota leave behind. Some, including a man that Reinke has taken into his home with his wife and four children, are registered sex offenders. There may be a case of a then-18 year old sleeping with his 16-year old girlfriend, though others may be more egregious. But having this collection of individuals in a modest town bordering on puritanical values even before the truth about some of the Overnighters came out, this does no favors. Reinke tries to balance them as much as he can, but it becomes something that is potentially hard for one man to bear. Seeing the promise and the decline warms your heart, then kills you from the heat.
Drafthouse Films is the distributor of the film, and when I was going to see films at my local Alamo I would see the trailer for the film repeatedly, and now I can understand why. It is engrossing, emotional and is the type of film that remains with you after viewing it, sometimes on multiple viewings as it has for me. It shows the virtues and even the perils of assisting your fellow man, and includes an ending that I shan't reveal and comes so far out of left field (yet you can see almost unfold in front of you) you want to see it unfold again. The film and its subjects are fascinating people.The Blu-ray:
The Overnighters is presented with an AVC encode to go with this 1.85:1 high-definition transfer, one where Moss did the shooting. He gets lots of wide shots of North Dakota sunrises and sunsets and they all look excellent, with vivid color reproduction. The image is sharp and packs a lot of detail, whether it is three-day old growth on Reinke or grains of dirt or threads on a large pipe. Having experienced scarce Blu-rays from them to date, I was left impressed with their presentation of this one.Audio:
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless track is fine considering the dialogue-driven nature of the source material. You can definitely hear things like a rifle bolt chambering a round from a neighbor who most definitely wants Reinke to leave her property. Sound during the movie is replicated accurately, with an occasional flirtation of low-end fidelity from composer T. Griffin. It sounds upfront and is perfectly effective to listen to.Extras:
Moss and Reinke team up for a commentary that is active when it needs to be, but also provides updates on some of the members (when available). Reinke talks about how the Overnighters evolved and some of the experiences with the subjects in the film. It is an engaging and informative track. Reinke does an updated interview six months after the film ends (23:50) where he talks about the film's impact on the town and his family, and the reaction to the film, along with his first thoughts on it. His discusses the reaction from others to him about the film, and how his faith/relationship to God has changed since the events in it, and if he still keeps in touch with any of the Overnighters. It is a nice interview that includes some thoughts and stories outside of the commentary. A trailer with the film and other Drafthouse joints is included, and there is also a digital copy of the film for you to play how you wish, iTunes and Ultraviolet be damned (thankfully). There is also a 20-page booklet that includes a statement from Moss and a photo gallery of some of the Overnighters which is nicely put together. Five deleted scenes (15:19) are a little redundant from the film and their excision is understandable.Final Thoughts:
The Overnighters shows so many things in the movie, hope, compassion, indifference, suspicion, loyalty and betrayal over the course of the movie it is amazing to consider that it is a documentary. Technically, the film is sound and the commentary and updated interview are musts immediately after viewing, the latter of which by the way should be required for a film like this.