Take a Drink: for expressions of optimism
Take a Drink: for local resistance
Take a Drink: for hints at Pastor Reinke’s secret. Hint: if it seems like one, it is.
Do a Shot: for curious strings of logic
Do a Shot: for ‘Lil Mr. New York Times Wanna-Be
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
You’ve almost certainly heard of the Good Samaritan, although you may not know exactly what it refers to. It’s one of Jesus’s parables in which a Jewish judge and priest ignore an injured man by the side of the road. The only person to stop is a Samaritan, an ethnic group with no love lost from the Jews at the time. The upshot- it’s not your conspicuous prayers, or your titles, or your tithes and donations that make you good- it’s what you do.
Before you start on the comment boards, Jesus was a Jew, dumbasses
The Overnighters is a documentary about a true Good Samaritan- Pastor Jay Reinke, who puts up a large group of itinerant workers and their families, who’ve been drawn to South Dakota to work in its burgeoning shale oil fields. He gives them a place to sleep in the Church he oversees, despite congregation and public pressure to stop. What’s a Christian to do when they have nowhere else to go?
In a current climate that’s pervaded with a hostile and largely willful ignorance as to what a Christian actually is, from both within and outside the Church, this movie portrays what it means to be a Christian as well as any I’ve seen. It’s not easy, it will draw antipathy, and it’s complex. It’s not about judging, and those who define Christians as judgmental harridans, or much worse, Christians who think it’s their place to judge, are so far from the point that they’d need a telescope to see it, and not one of those cheap Walmart ones, either. Our place is to serve.
Not gonna cut it.
Besides this, The Overnighters is also a fascinating portrait of America’s biggest resource boom since perhaps the Yukon Gold Rush. It feels like something out of a different time- John Steinbeck or Jack London- but it’s happening now, and the interviews of these men feel like living history.
This doc’s main issue is structural, and it’s a very large one. Sure, it’s shot handsomely and has a nice folksy score, but it suffers from a jumbled chronology, going from summer to winter to summer again in a manner of minutes even though the entire film was shot over two years.
Better start planning those BBQs
The reason for this sloppiness I suspect is the “big twist”, which, A) is not exactly hard to find out, especially with the film’s ham-handed foreshadowing and B) feels rather beside the point. It every much feels like this bombshell dropped when the film was practically done, and that they added a pre- and postscript and reedited when possible to reflect that, losing their original vision in the process.
The biggest casualty of this approach is The Overnighter‘s sincerity. Footage is clearly cherry-picked in some parts to support a narrative (like the ending- compelling on paper, too damn pat in real life), while in other parts there are glaring holes, especially regarding interpersonal relationships. Why many of the people in the film do things is a general mystery, never more than when Jay reveals his “big twist” to his wife. Why would you ever consent to having that moment captured for posterity?
The story that The Overnighters tells is a compelling, uniquely American one, but it feels like we’re not getting the whole of it.