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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Overnighters

A modern day version of the Grapes of Wrath

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 3, 2015 -- This is America in a microcosm, a movie which sums up where we are at in terms of economics, politics, religion, the whole ball of wax, then blows it all up with an unexpected revelation at the end of the film. It is a film about big issues, but it is told on a deeply personal level. This is the best 2014 documentary film I've seen.

This film was shot mainly in one small city, Williston, North Dakota, where thousands of people from all over the U.S. and all over the world have come in recent years looking for work in the oil and gas industry, which is booming in that part of the state. Jay Reinke, pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church has made his church into a haven for people who have come to Williston looking for work, but have no place to stay.

Housing prices and rents have skyrocketed because of the oil boom. There is a waiting list to get into the local RV park, and a waiting list to get into the church, too. Some people end up sleeping in cars in the church parking lot. The city council is planning to pass an ordinance to ban RV parking in parking lots and it plans to prohibit the church from allowing people to sleep there, too.

Reinke is fighting these actions. These are good people, but when you put this kind of pressure on people, it turns from “We're all in this together” to “It's us versus them”. Most of the church people hang in there, but the politicians crumble.

A journeyman electrician is interviewed in Williston, where he has come looking for work. He thought he would get hired right away. It didn't work out that way. Reinke counsels an older man who has come to town looking for work that the oil companies are looking for younger men.

Even the men who do find work find it difficult to live there. One man has to quit his job because the strain on his family is too great because he is living and working so far from home. Another man is seriously injured in a wreck while driving a long distance back home to visit his family. This is the dark side of the American dream. At one point in the film, a woman pulls a gun on Reinke and then hits the cameraman with a broom handle.

Reinke is determined to help these men, but the constant influx of people staying at the church, overnighters, they are called, is putting a strain on Reinke, his congregation and his family. People are leaving the church and resentment of the outsiders is growing in town. The kidnapping and murder of a local woman by two drifters doesn't help matters.

Things come to a head with the city council, and things come to a head with Reinke and his family too. Things end up in a mess, blackmail, scandal, revelations about registered sex offenders staying at the church have the neighbors up in arms. There is drama, anger, revenge and sorrow before this is all over.

A meeting between the editor of a Williston newspaper and Reinke is especially difficult. Reinke is worried about the newspaper publishing the names of local sex offenders. The editor says he is more concerned with the neighbors right to know this information than he is how it will affect the men whose names appear on the list. The film is filled with difficult decisions like these.

This story is told on a very personal level, and the main character is Reinke himself. There is an extraordinary revelation near the end of the film. It is like this was written by a great screenwriter, but instead it is real life. Amazing. These personal stories have a lot to say about religion and the culture we live in. This film rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright 2015 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)