Country tells a story about the things we hear about but
rarely witness. We see a decent woman and her female coworkers groped and
grabbed and sneered at. The men smear obscenities in human excrement on
the walls in the women's locker room; they write nasty notes on the side
of a dozer while the female driver remains oblivious to the joke and ignoring
the laughter. The sexual harassment in the film is jarring to the senses;
seeing this upset all of us, not just women. The power of North Country
is its realism, its faults only surface near the end when the courtroom
drama plunges into the sea of predictability and doges practicality.
North Country Movie Review
Charlize Theron is Josey Aimes, who leaves her abusive husband and tows her two children off to her parent's house in Northern Minnesota. There she works as a hairdresser but can easily make six times her salary as a miner. In 1989, however, female miners were outnumbered 29 to 1 by males. Josey's father is a miner, and her entering his field is to him, dishonor beyond belief. Through the help of a female union rep Glory (Frances McDormand) Josey takes the job. After all, she points out, she needs the money just as much as they do.
Josey soon discovers that the protocol at the mine among men and women is unregulated. This upsets her as is does the other women. But they've decided a steady income is more important than the principle. When the assault becomes physical, Josey files the first class action lawsuit against the mine through a small time town lawyer (Woody Harrelson), although she is the sole plaintiff for some time. We learn later of some business from high school that has left Josey caricatured as the town tramp on the surface, but we know better by the movie's end.
The legal battle is a bit unbelievable. Bill's down home lawyer is far too
unprofessional, as are the circumstances surrounding the case as a class
action suit. Director Niki Caro knows this, however, and adjusts accordingly
even if the outcome appears questionable. Several questions arose after
the films end that left me a little perplexed, but there is nothing to dwell
over. The film was not advertised to be as factual is its modern counterparts
(Erin Brockovich, etc.), so they are excusable.
The court scenes don't arrive until halfway through which allows Theron
to create a character of sizeable development. Her Josey is not completely
dissimilar to her Oscar-nominated performance as serial killer Aileen Wuornos
in 2004's Monster. Both women are badly abused and subject to a
prejudice that many still ignore. Josey obviously expels her frustration
through other means, but the foundation of frustration and anguish is quite
relatable. Theron plays Josey with a subdued ferocity that is quite compelling-another
Academy Award nomination is sure to follow if the film can stay afloat long
enough. She doesn't go as far with the downplaying of her beauty as Monster
required, a simple shag and dumpy clothing are good enough.
Caro, working from a script by Michael Seitzman
(Here on Earth), wisely incorporates the supporting characters'
reactions and motives as more than mere witnesses. McDormand does a slight
variation of her famed police chief in Fargo with the same accent and manner,
this time providing North Country a well of decency. Josey's female
coworkers include newcomer Michelle Monaghan and Rusty Schwimmer. Sissy Spacek is Josey's logical mother and Richard Jenkins is well
cast as her shamed father. Linda Emond plays the attorney for the mine company.
Caro inserts some keen aerial shots of the real Minnesota mining towns.
They appear as dangerous and unfit for women as the male workers attest
to. Some critics have expressed disdain for the way Caro has portrayed the
male species in the film. They reference Whale Rider, Caro's 2003
film about a Maori girl in New Zealand who is kept from becoming the next
leader of her tribe because she is a female, as evidence of Caro purporting
men to be eternally barbaric. There are "good" men in North Country
as to be expected. I must admit to a tinge of preachiness, but look closely
at the film and you will find an honest story with extraordinary acting
and precise direction.
Directed By: Niki Caro
Written By: Michael Seitzman
Based on: Class Action: The Story of Lois Jensen and the Landmark Case That
Changed Sexual Harassment Law by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy
Running time: 123 minutes
Josey Aimes: Charlize Theron
Glory: Frances McDormand
Bill White: Woody Harrelson
Hank Aimes: Richard Jenkins
Alice Aimes: Sissy Spacek
Kyle: Sean Bean
Sherry: Michelle Monaghan
Linda Emond: Leslie Conlin
Rusty Schwimmer: Big Betty
Bobby Sharp: Jeremy Renner
Karen Aimes: Elle Peterson
Sammy Aimes: Thomas Curtis