By Abigail Geiger
What at first appears to be the story of a godly man acting as a shepherd for the jobless and lonely in Williston, North Dakota, Jesse Moss’s The Overnighters reveals itself to be a haunting and memorable tale of sin and loneliness.
After hydraulic fracturing offered the opportunity for jobs, men flock to North Dakota from all corners of the country to try to break into the industry. Dropping everything where they once lived to make a few dimes to make life easier back home, these men live out of cars and trailers and elicit strong tension from the local community. They have nothing left but the hope for work. “I don’t have any more pride," one of the men says. “I lost all my pride a long time ago.”
With his “overnighters” program, local pastor Jay Reinke has taken these wanderers in by using a city legal loophole that allows people to sleep on properties if the property owner allows them to. This seems admirable, but to others it's also selfish. The men put a strain on the church’s congregation, the pastor’s family and the local community. The Overnighters shows the progression of this program, but primarily documents its collapse. And while the film shows a modern-day shepherd fighting for men who have no one to fight for them, it shows how every man is a fallen man because of the sins that he chooses to hide from the world.
Two scenes show the audience the depth of Reinke's decisions and risks, notably when he fears a local reporter’s exacting revenge via the tip about a sexual offender living in the pastor’s house and when he is interviewing the men who come to him.
Reinke is a positive force who guides these men in, but the film beautifully documents both the tolls the program takes on Reinke and his family and also the secrets Reinke hides.
The Overnighters is a beautiful take on community, acceptance (or lack thereof) and forgiveness. It also is a dark portrayal of the effects of mistakes, the difficulty humans have trusting each other and the repercussions of secrets. But perhaps what The Overnighters does best is show how nuanced each character is; no character is pigeonholed and even the pastor reveals himself to be much more conflicted than the audience initially perceives.