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MOVIE REVIEW | 'NORTH COUNTRY' - multiple reviews - usual tidbits of spoiler info

Sean Bean as Kyle in 'North Country'

Published: October 21, 2005

For every woman who has been grabbed and groped against her wishes, hounded and worse, told to shut up and smile, told to shut up and take it like a man, told to shut up if you know what's good for you, the new film "North Country" will induce a shiver of recognition and maybe a blast of rage. A wobbly fiction about a real pioneering sex-discrimination case, the film is an unabashed vehicle for its modestly de-glammed star, Charlize Theron, but, much like George Clooney's "Good Night, and Good Luck," it's also a star vehicle with heart - an old-fashioned liberal weepie about truth and justice.

Written by Michael Seitzman and directed by Niki Caro, "North Country" takes its inspiration from the first sexual harassment class-action suit in the United States. The suit pitted a handful of female workers against their employer, Eveleth Mines in northern Minnesota, and hinged on both physical and psychological abuse that would have sent most people, men included, running for the exits. Lois Jensen began working at Eveleth Mines in 1975 soon after a consent decree forced the company to hire women, only to find herself bombarded by lewd comments, vulgar graffiti, hard-core pornography and the unsolicited, at times threatening advances of male colleagues. One man broke into her house as she slept; another stalked her with the sort of delusional ardor that fuels the John Hinckleys of the world.

The women eventually won the suit, making history in the bargain, but only after an excruciating, maddeningly drawn-out court battle of the sort that, generally speaking, works against the exigencies of compelling drama. "North Country," which evokes the songs by Bob Dylan, a Minnesota native who grew up on the iron range where the story takes place, is one of those Hollywood entertainments that strive to tell a hard, bitter story with as much uplift as possible. That the film works as well as it does, delivering a tough first hour only to disintegrate like a wet newspaper, testifies to the skill of the filmmakers as well as to the constraints brought on them by an industry that insists on slapping a pretty bow on even the foulest truth.

Starting in the late 1980's, the film tracks the education of Josey Aimes (Ms. Theron) from her days as an eager new hire to her weary tenure as a combatant against a hostile, nearly all-male workforce. Even before Josey signs on with Eveleth, Ms. Caro, who made a small splash with the mite-sized art-house favorite "Whale Rider," tells us everything we need to know about this scrapper, including the fact that she's used to being pushed around by men. When the film opens, this veteran of those wars fought on the domestic front is peeling herself off the floor where she has been viciously laid low, though she is also soon on the road with her kids. Josey is used to being pushed around, but she will be pushed only so far.

Like the other female miners, Josey takes a job at Eveleth Mines because it pays better than any pink- or other blue-collar gig in the region. Poverty forces these women into the mine, where the air is thick with dust and misogyny. Despite the hazards, Josey quickly learns the pleasure of cashing her own check, a novel experience after years of dependency on both men and her parents (played by Sissy Spacek and Richard Jenkins). Money and fear - fear of losing family, home and independence - keep the women punching the mine clock. Money and fear also keep their heads bowed and mouths closed, even as they are subjected to veiled and open threats.

"Whale Rider" fit snuggly on a small television screen, but here Ms. Caro shows herself equal to the task of a bigger canvas, guiding the story with urgency and dramatic sweep. With its belching smokestacks and moonscape grounds, Eveleth Mines looks like a monster, a prison, a vision of hell. Ms. Theron could easily play the damsel in distress, but she keeps her performance grounded, winning our sympathies if not our credulity. It's all too easy to make fun of Hollywood actresses for taking on awards-baiting roles, just as it's easy to dismiss a film like "North Country" because, as a young male friend more or less suggested, our screens are overflowing with stories about working-class women sticking it to the Man.

That's an absurd fiction, but surely more comforting than the truth, which at the Eveleth Mines was messy, tiresome, exhausting, banal and stultifyingly ugly. Mr. Seitzman pares away most of the mess and the tedium, but his smartest move is to turn a mirror on the audience and transform one woman's life and hard times into the life and hard times of all women. As Josey testifies in court, recalling every insult and outrage that ate at her soul, she becomes every woman who has ever had to repeat "no" until she was blue in the face. It's exhausting fighting that fight, and this may explain why "North Country" self-destructs midway through, as if undone by the sheer effort of trying to stuff so much unpleasantness into a redemption song.

The filmmakers' inability to wrest a happy ending out of this story, much less a hint of real triumph, also may be partly explained by recent events. Last year, the advocacy group National Women's Law Center issued a report that accused the Bush administration of rolling back gains for women in all walks of life, noting the diminished number of sex-discrimination cases handled by the Justice Department. It's hard to imagine what the women who fought Eveleth Mines would make of these developments, though it is a good guess that they would be pleased to see their struggle onscreen and back in the public eye. After all, as is clear from the plaintiff who had her ashes scattered over the mines, these women knew when it was time to fight.

"North Country" is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). There is a lot of crude language and violence, both physical and psychological, against women.

North Country

Opens today nationwide.

Directed by Niki Caro; written by Michael Seitzman, based on the book "Class Action: The Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law" by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler; director of photography, Chris Menges; edited by David Coulson; music by Gustavo Santaolalla; production designer, Richard Hoover; produced by Nick Wechsler; released by Warner Brothers Pictures. Running time: 123 minutes.

WITH: Charlize Theron (Josey Aimes), Frances McDormand (Glory), Sean Bean (Kyle), Richard Jenkins (Hank), Jeremy Renner (Bobby), Michelle Monaghan (Sherry), Woody Harrelson (Bill White) and Sissy Spacek (Alice).
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October 21, 2005

Theron's brings Oscar-worthy spin to 'North Country'

By Jack Garner
Gannett News Service

When Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron) escapes her abusive husband and takes her children back to her Northern Minnesota roots, her priority is a job. The only places that pay much money are the iron mines.

Those mines have been a bastion of gritty and strictly male employees for generations. Only recently have women joined the work force -- and the men express their bitter resentment with unbridled harassment, defilement and abuse.

North Country

• Cast: Charlize Theron, Richard Jenkins, Sissy Spacek, Sean Bean, Frances McDormand.

• Running time: 123 minutes.

• Rating: R; sequences involving sexual harassment including violence and dialogue, and for language.

But Aimes needs the work and a friend (Frances McDormand) convinces her to give it a try, despite the challenges. Aimes, though, gets no support from her father, a long-time miner whose first response is "So now you're a lesbian?" Aimes also butts up against a despicable former high school boyfriend who's among her bosses.

That's the set-up for "North Country," a potent (if didactic) drama, loosely based on a landmark court case involving workplace sexual harassment. At the mines, Aimes encounters sex toys in lunch boxes, offensive graffiti in lockers and on the walls, feces and filth in the women's restrooms, and even groping on the job.

Fortunately, the filmmakers allow a few decent men into the narrative, including McDormand's concerned husband (Sean Bean) and lawyer Bill White (Woody Harrelson), who recently has returned to the region (and takes Aimes' case).

"North Country" is framed by the courtroom scenes, with the stories of abuse detailed in extensive flashbacks. The plant's lawyer tries hard to discredit Aimes by depicting a sordid sexual past that supposedly includes the seduction of a teacher while still in school. The incident, though, was obviously a rape by the teacher and its detailing dominates the film's final reels, often distracting from the broader workplace issues.

Still, Theron brings vivid life to the frustrated and courageous Josey. In certain subtle ways, it's a more detailed and impressive performance than her Oscar-winning turn in "Monster." She gets memorable support, particularly Richard Jenkins ("Six Feet Under") as Josey's father and McDormand as her friend.

Director Niki Caro (of "Whale Rider") makes an impassioned American debut, while cinematographer Chris Menges brilliantly captures the slate-gray world of northern Minnesota.

Copyright 2005 All rights reserved
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Strong as iron
Fri, October 21, 2005
North Country tells an important story about women at an iron ore mine, but overdoes the dramatization.
By Liz Braun, Special to the Free Press

It was still very much a man's world in the iron mines of northern Minnesota in the 1980s.

For economic and social reasons, women were rare and unwelcome in the mines. The women who worked alongside the men learned to put up with things and shut up in the face of dangerous pranks and crude harassment.

North Country is the story, partly based in truth, of how the shabby treatment dealt to women miners prompted a groundbreaking class-action lawsuit for sexual harassment.

The larger story in North Country is told through the specific experiences of one woman, Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron), beginning in 1989.

Josey's world is one in which her own father questions her decision to leave a battering husband.

Her parents (Sissy Spacek and Richard Jenkins) are dead set against her working at the mine, but work at the mine she will, for Josey has two children to raise.

For any woman, working in the iron mines was a job you can't get without a pelvic exam to ensure you were not pregnant. Those were the days, you might say. Or not.

Two old friends also employed at the mine loom large in the story. One is a buddy, Glory (the inimitable Frances McDormand) and one is an old classmate, Bobby (Jeremy Renner), a man Josey dreads for reasons past and present.

There's a courtroom scene near the start of North Country, so you know where the action is headed.

Josey gets that job at the mines -- and endures plenty of creepy behaviour from a handful of the men.

The other women miners put up with the comments and with the increasingly violent and disgusting incidents (feces all over the walls in the women's toilets, for example).

When Josey complains to management, everything just gets worse. She is invited to resign. The other workers, male and female, turn against her for threatening their livelihoods. Her children are bullied at school for their mother's actions.

Once Josey rounds up a local lawyer (Woody Harrelson) and takes action against her employer, her life actually gets worse again. The mine's lawyers in effect put her on trial ("It's called the nuts and sluts defence") and the whole town is involved in one way or another.

Much in North Country may be based on true events, but the film's second half is a huge drama pile-on. It's an interesting story, no question, but it's good where it could have been great. There's too much going on and the characters are never allowed to become fully three-dimensional.

The courtroom drama winds up happily ever after in a fashion that feels somewhat dishonest.

And it is. For all that North Country shows in the way of shocking and brutal behaviour, the reality was actually much worse.

Even so, many events in the film may well be incomprehensible to a younger generation of women.

And so they should be.


What: Drama directed by Niki Caro

Starring: Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, Sissy Spacek, Woody Harrelson

Classification: 14A

Where: Huron Market Place, 1251 Huron St. (453-4672); SilverCity, Masonville Place (673-4125); Wellington 8, 983 Wellington Rd. (673-4125); Galaxy Cinemas, 417 Wellington St., St. Thomas (631-5777)
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Friday, October 21, 2005


'North Country' doesn't do justice to the real tale

Based on a landmark case, the film's presentation is just too convenient.

By Tom Long / Detroit News Film Critic

'North Country'


Rated R for sequences involving sexual harassment including violence, dialogue and for language.

Running time: 123 minutes

If men are pigs, men from northern Minnesota, with a few exceptions, are outright hogs. At least that's the way it appears in the overly facile, passion-by-the-numbers "North Country," a film about sexual harassment that doesn't even have the guts to stand by a woman's right to be sexually active and equal in the workplace.

All the familiar ingredients show up in "North Country": the abused woman who stands up for herself, the sympathetic neutered male friend, the brave co-worker with a debilitating disease, the stubborn parent who comes to his senses, the rousing moment when all those who've abandoned our heroine come back to her.

And bad guys -- wow, are there bad guys -- every one of whom, blue collar or white collar, literally oozes yucky behavior. It's telling that in this movie, the only one of the bad guys who exhibits anything close to a brain is a female attorney. Otherwise, she's surrounded by hogs.

Understand that this is no knock on sexual harassment laws. This is a knock on trite drama that is delivered in the guise of wisdom. Every argument presented here is good and righteous. It's the presentation that's too convenient.

Charlize Theron is obviously bucking for another Oscar by playing Josey Aimes. Abused by her boyfriend, Josey returns to her hometown with adolescent son Sammy (Thomas Curtis) and young daughter Karen (Elle Peterson) and moves back in with her folks. Her mother (Sissy Spacek) welcomes her with open arms while her grumbling father (Richard Jenkins) figures she was probably asking for trouble, just like all those times before.

Her father and most of the town's men work in the local mine, and when Josey takes a job there, spurred on by old buddy Glory (Frances McDormand), she immediately runs into an ugly wall of sexism. The men resent women for taking jobs that were traditionally male, and they harass them as a matter of course. The more the women stand up for themselves, the more overt, crude and consistent the harassment gets.

Josey puts up with it for a while but, being a certifiable hottie and the unmarried mother of two kids, the sexual advances become intolerable.

When she goes to the president of the company, he proves himself to be a card-carrying hog as well. So Josey turns to a new friend (Woody Harrelson), who just happens to be a hockey legend and former high-powered New York attorney. She wants to sue the company.

All of which is well and good. And there's no denying the despicable acts encountered by Josey, or their roots in despicable reality. But screenwriter Michel Seitzman, working from Clara Bingham's book, and director Niki Caro ("Whale Rider") pour the drama on too heavy in too many overly familiar ways. All of this is supposed to be "based on a true story" in the way so many films take a real incident (there was such a lawsuit) and fill it out with convenient characters.

The worst offense here, though, is when an inevitable courtroom attack of Josey's sexual past turns ugly, the screenplay conveniently comes up with a big excuse for her. Single moms don't need excuses for being sexually active and women of any sort don't need justification for standing up to sexual harassment.

If anyone leaves this film the wiser or more tolerant for its message, then it has served a great purpose.

But in overdoing the theatrics and hammering the clichés "North Country" does artistic injustice to its own important argument.

You can reach Tom Long at (313) 222-8879 or
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Posted 10/20/2005 8:40 PM
Cold war brews in 'North Country'
By Mike Clark, USA TODAY
At its best, North Country conveys what it's like to be a small-town social pariah and to fear for yourself in the workplace. It even says a little something about the refuge and sanctity of a neighborhood tavern.

Moldy bars, at least, are in out of the cold, and this is a movie in which a frigid locale is important. Based on a landmark sexual-harassment class-action suit, Country deals with female workers who take much, much worse than sass in a Minnesota iron mine. And when they exit the plant after a terrible day at work, what do they see? Snow and their breath.

This is Charlize Theron's first major big-screen role since winning an Oscar for Monster. And though the actress is again deglamorized, this time she's recognizable.

Critics might argue that however emotionally invested her performance is, Theron is still too pretty to play someone who is ground down by life. Yet looks are an issue in this movie. Is her character sleeping around or coming on to male co-workers, who outnumber women in the mine 30-1? No, but many locals are trying to discredit her on this level.

As in 1983's superior Silkwood, Country's most resonant scenes are work-related: oppressed women grousing (but taking it) in the changing room; a lone female union rep (crusty Frances McDormand) trading barbs with "the boys"; scatological graffiti, and we mean literally; a heart-tugger at the union hall when Theron's long-estranged father and mine employee (Richard Jenkins) pulls a surprise.

But much of the movie deals with Theron's rebellious adolescent son. This subplot bogs down the film, as does director Niki Caro's inability to put a fresh spin on courtroom scenes. And this is despite a smart, subtle performance by Linda Emond as the mine's defense attorney plus the pleasure of seeing Woody Harrelson in a nice-guy role as Theron's lawyer.

The finale reduces Country to "a movie," which is kind of a rude surprise. Otherwise, much of the setup is worthy of Caro, who did the memorable Whale Rider, another film in which setting is important.

The milieu here is unforgiving, which makes fighting for basic rights important. You get a sense of why Bob Dylan — who performs on this soundtrack — wanted to bolt this frigid part of the map.

About the movie

North Country
* * * (out of four)
Stars: Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sissy Spacek, Richard Jenkins, Sean Bean
Director: Niko Caro
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Rating: R for sequences involving sexual harassment, including violence and dialogue, and for language
Running time: 2 hours, 6 minutes
Opens Friday nationwide
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Friday, October 21, 2005

Historic crusade against sexual harassment is grippingly retold in 'North Country'


Charlize Theron gives an intelligent and honest performance as a woman miner in the emotionally powerful "North Country," a fictionalized account of the landmark 1984 case that made sexual harassment illegal in the American workplace.



CAST: Charlize Theron, Woody Harrelson, Frances McDormand

RUNNING TIME: 126 minutes

RATING: R for sequences involving sexual harassment including violence and dialogue, and for language


As directed by New Zealand's Niki Caro ("Whale Rider"), the film is overcooked and simplistic in spots, but it's a powerful experience that should persuade any doubters that the tough sexual harassment laws now in place were hard earned and completely justified.

Theron plays Josey Aimes, the unmarried mother of two small children who defies her parents' wishes and her small-town Minnesota values by joining a group of women miners who the federal courts have decreed be hired by the iron mine that's the area's biggest employer.

The pay is good, but it's brutal and dangerous work, and the male work force and their union are exceedingly hostile to the women miners. In fact, the women are subjected to non-stop abuse that becomes more graphic, crude and physical with each passing day.

The story follows Josey as she mounts a heroic, one-woman crusade to do something about the situation, and, for her trouble, is scorned, insulted, humiliated, character-assassinated, disowned by her own miner father (Richard Jenkins) and eventually assaulted.

As her ordeal finally moves to a David-and-Goliath courtroom battle, the film also strains credulity left and right in other small ways, and hinges on a wincingly contrived, last-minute work by Josey's two-dollar lawyer (Woody Harrelson).

Still, despite these weaknesses, the movie grabs you by the throat and refuses to let you go. It has a cumulative power that sweeps aside all your reservations, makes you feel ashamed of the male sex, and rallies you to its core of metaphoric truth.

If Theron's beauty works against her credibility as a put-upon working stiff, she more than compensates with the intelligence and honesty of her performance. You believe that, in real life, she's very much like this character.

And if director Caro's thumb can be heavy and her lack of feel for Middle America evident, she makes up for it by giving the film a ring of emotional truth and, in Harrelson, Jenkins, Frances McDormand, Sean Bean, Sissy Spacek and Michelle Monaghan, an ensemble of near-flawless supporting performances.
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Arts & Entertainment > Movies
from the October 21, 2005 edition

'North Country' mines well-trod ground

By Peter Rainer | Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor

Movies don't get much more well-meaning than "North Country," an earnest problem drama about female workers in a northern Minnesota iron mine in the late '80s.

Loosely based on facts from the book "Class Action: The Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law," it stars Charlize Theron as Josie, a battered wife with two children who moves back to her hometown to live with her parents (Sissy Spacek and Richard Jenkins) and toil in the pits. She joins a small cadre of women who have been allowed in the mines due to Supreme Court-mandated quotas.

Soon the sexual intimidation begins: obscenities are scrawled in changing rooms or shouted in public, port-a-potties are overturned while the women are inside, and much worse. Josie is no standard-bearer - she just wants to make enough money to care for her children - but the relentlessness of the harassment forces her to fight back. For a time, she's just about the only one who does.

Critics have been comparing this film to "Norma Rae" and "Silkwood," but a more apt comparison might be to "High Noon."

The best parts of "North Country" are the scenes between the female miners as they banter and let off steam. Director Niki Caro ("Whale Rider"), working from a script by Michael Seitzman, has a strong feeling for how women band together - and break apart. Her depiction of these women is far from doctrinaire. Some of them are as hostile to Josie's entreaties as any man. And not all the men are ogres. For starters, Josie's lawyer (Woody Harrelson) is an ex-hockey star turned Sensitive Guy while the company lawyer is a female turncoat.

But overall "North Country" is too self-consciously scaled as an anthem for the human spirit. We can spot where this movie is headed right from the beginning, and not just because Caro employs a tricky time structure that keeps flashing back from the courtroom trial. We know when we first see Josie that she is being primed for sainthood. That smudge of iron dust on her cheek is her red (make that gray) badge of courage. And we know when we meet her upstanding company boss that he will turn out to be a worm, just as we know that her disapproving father, a lifelong miner, or her angry, uncomprehending son, will eventually rally to her cause. There's even the obligatory "I am Spartacus" sequence where the workers one by one stand up to support their martyr. If it were not for Chris Menges's gravely powerful cinematography, which turns the iron mine into a living, breathing landscape, the movie would seem a lot stagier than it is. (There's a lot of Hollywood in this neck of the woods.)

As a union rep, Frances McDormand (who still has her Minnesota vowels in place from "Fargo") periodically helps relieve the righteousness, although this is the kind of movie where the character with the funniest lines is obliged to acquire a terminal illness. Harrelson does his considerable best to redeem the hackneyed role of the dreamboat do-gooder. No matter how conventional his roles may be, he always gives them a feral quality, an eccentricity, that lifts them out of the ordinary.

Theron has her best role since her Oscar-winning Monster, which isn't saying much if you've seen some of her intervening efforts, like "Head in the Clouds" (which prompted some people to call for an Oscar recall vote). Without the prosthetic makeup from "Monster," Theron's blond prettiness shines forth as usual, and Caro plays up the incongruity between the actress's runway model looks and her grimy surroundings. Perhaps she plays it up too much - Josie is transformed almost literally into a beacon of hope. Grade: B-

• Rated R for sequences involving sexual harassment including violence and dialogue, and for language.
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'North Country' Truthful, But Overdirected
Tale of sexual harassment lacks realistic horror

Brian Orndorf (briano)

Struggling to keep her life together while raising two kids on her own, Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron) moves back in with her Minnesota iron range parents (Richard Jenkins and Sissy Spacek), and eyes a job at the local taconite mine. Entering a predominately male workplace that only recently allowed women to hold jobs there, Josey is immediately humiliated by her co-workers through varying degrees of sexual harassment and intimidation.

Her female co-workers (including Frances McDormand and Michelle Monaghan) insist that she keep quiet and take the abuse, but when the harassment becomes violent, she enlists a lawyer acquaintance (Woody Harrelson) to help her sue the mine for damages.

"North Country" purports itself to be based on fact, but you could've fooled me. Taken from the landmark Lois Jenson sexual harassment case of the 1980s, the story is ripe for a big screen treatment that cuts directly to the heart of this explosive topic, and pays respect to those that fought for the right to stand up and demand equality. "North Country" has a sensational story, it's just a crime the filmmakers elected to write the script with crayons.

Charlize Theron leads an ensemble cast to bring this tale to life, and their efforts to impart a history and life to these characters is duly noted. Simply carrying out their orders from director Niki Caro, the cast tries their best to rise above the material and portray a tough life of hard labor and crippling abuse.

Pros like Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins know how to convey internalize anguish, and they make Theron look better than her weepy-eyed lead performance initially seems. Saddled with broad, unfortunate Minn-eee-soh-TAHH accents, the cast has an uphill battle just trying to make themselves into believable mine workers (with serious conditioner issues), beaten into submission by their peers.

The screenplay by Michael Seitzman doesn't offer any assistance to the talent, instead leaving them stranded with unreasonably pronounced depictions of abuse. Caro, who showed such great promise with the magical "Whale Rider," flaccidly captures what's on the page, leaving the audience with a film that doesn't understand subtlety, thus losing half of its horror.

There's no doubt in my mind the depths of hell Jenson faced on a daily basis as she struggled to maintain her job were decimating to her soul, but throw them up on the big screen, and the situations push themselves into caricature. With Josey's male co-workers literally licking their lips while she passes, grabbing their crotches at union meetings, and grunting around like knuckle-dragging cavemen, "Country" comes dangerously close to basic cable-level production values, and severely neuters the level of terror these men should inspire.

Caro wants the audience to be on Josey's side so badly, that she neglects to paint a bigger picture of the traditional sex roles that once ruled the mines; it serves as a backdrop, but is never explored. Caro is more interested in shock value with the various feces, sex toy, and semen pranks that are pulled on the women of the mine. Comprehension of Josey's daily survival in her workplace is also oddly missing, leaving behind only short moments of horror.

Toward the end of the "Country," it dawns that reality is not what the filmmakers are after here, they want easy acceptance instead. They want a simplistic courtroom crowd pleaser instead of doing justice to what Jenson achieved. That's a shame.

"North Country" is an incredibly important Midwestern story, and to see it balled up and tossed around in so many formulaic ways feels like a colossal missed opportunity. To reduce this story into bite-sized Oscar-baiting moments is missing the entire point of the struggle for equality and safety, making "North Country" seriously misguided as it begs nakedly for authenticity.

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Tracking Shots
Classless Class Action Flick Guilty of Viewer Harassment
North Country

by Jessica Winter
October 18th, 2005 12:51 PM
North Country
Directed by Niki Caro
Warner Bros., opens October 21

The lead plaintiff in Jenson v. Eveleth Mines, the first class action sexual-harassment suit, began work at the northern Minnesota iron mine in 1975 and, with 14 other women, won a multimillion-dollar settlement in 1998 after a grueling, sometimes humiliating legal saga. Given the battle's enormous toll on the women's physical and psychological health, it's a perplexing irony that the movie "inspired by" the case suffers such a bizarre failure of nerve. Just like her film ancestor Norma Rae, North Country's fictionalized Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron) has two kids by different fathers and is living with her parents (Richard Jenkins and Sissy Spacek) when she takes a tough, often dangerous job. At the mine, the film's leering army of Cro-Mag aggressors subject Josey and her female colleagues to all manner of insults, pawing, intimidation, and surprise gifts (dildo in the lunch box, semen in the locker). When Josey lodges formal complaints, the abuse only escalates, as does the false consciousness among the women co-workers—everything was fine until that loose bitch showed up!—and even her own son calls her a whore.

Having established Josey as the focus of the entire iron range's enmity, the filmmakers panic, and North Country spectacularly self-destructs in a climactic courtroom free-for-all. (The extended cacophony entails lawyer Woody Harrelson screaming, "YELLOW OR RED!" during cross-examination and miner Frances McDormand, diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, thumping a bench in mute appeal.) When it's revealed on the stand (spoiler alert!) that Josey's older child is the product of rape by her high school teacher (the crime is duly re-enacted), the irrelevant disclosure inspires a tide-turning show of solidarity from her heretofore dubious audience. Why? Have they gone Spartacus because she's more palatable as an object of pity than of defiance? Or more insidiously, does her testimony become credible the moment the scarlet letter for Teen Slut falls from her chest? No answers are forthcoming, but one thing's certain—we like our victims chaste (cf. The Contender, Philadelphia) or we don't like them at all.,tracking1,68965,20.html
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Posted on Fri, Oct. 21, 2005

'Country' heroine

Charlize Theron makes the film as a miner who sues her employer for harassment


"North Country" stars Charlize Theron as a woman we might call Norma Rae Silkwood-Brockovich.

Union gal, whistle-blower, amazonian goddess of the class action lawsuit - she appears to be three Academy Awards in one. Four, if you count Theron, who already has an Oscar.

"North Country" may be inspired by a landmark legal case - female miners who sued employers for sexual harassment - but other movies figure heavily in its iconography.

A preview audience was so sensitized to this that toward the end of the movie, when Theron climbs into a pick-up truck for a drive down a lonely country road, viewers gasped - anticipating that she would be killed accidentally on purpose, Silkwood-style (maybe it was the modified mullet, an homage to Meryl Streep).

Theron is spared that fate, but little else in the course of "North Country," a movie that meticulously details the harassment and abuse her character suffered at the hands of iron range miners in Minnesota.

Theron plays Josey Aimes, a single mom fleeing an abusive husband - one in a string of seriously bad relationships with men dating to adolescence. With two kids in tow, she moves in with mom and dad (Richard Jenkins, Sissy Spacek), where she senses she's a source of shame and a financial burden.

When a friend (Frances McDormand) mentions the big money to be made in the local taconite mines, Theron jumps at the chance for work and independence. She gets it, for a time, but buys trouble in the bargain. Men at the mine don't want women on the job, and make their working lives as difficult as possible.

"North Country" is crisp, efficient, often familiar in form, but exceptional in some ways. It's effective, for instance, in exploring how different women behave differently in the face of abuse.

Reactions to workplace harassment/intimidation (the movie frequently refers to Anita Hill, who accused Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas of harassment) allegations are thorny - made so because we know that while men can be pigs, we also know that smart, capable woman can often navigate the treacherous waters of a hostile work environment. "North Country" acknowledges this. It gives us the example of Glory (McDormand) who out-toughs, out-jokes, psychologically out-maneuvers the pigs she has to work worth.

Josey is not quite as strong, or maybe she's simply more vulnerable. "North Country" shows, in subtle and effective ways, why it's unfair to expect all women to be as exceptional as Glory.

The movie isn't always as subtle or original, although director Niki Caro ("Whale Rider") comes up with a novel way to break up the usual arc of crime-courtroom-verdict. She splinters it and reassembles "North Country" as a continuous, lucid flow of flashback and narrative, which holds up until the decisive courtroom scene.

Here the movie falters, big-time. The company tries to discredit Josey by bringing in witnesses to impugn her integrity - one of whom is a teacher who STATUTORILY RAPED her. How does being raped as a minor make you a loose woman? Is it just me, or is the teacher's lack of integrity more of a problem? If this actually happened, it's no wonder the company lost.

Woody Harrelson appears as Josey's attorney, and his Perry Mason, witness-badgering moment is also a bit much. Ditto the terminally ill character who rallies for a courtroom appearance.

The courtroom twists, though, are never as important to "North Country" as the characters. The cast is first-rate - Theron, McDormand, Sean Bean and especially Richard Jenkins, a fine character actor who gets a great scene here as the father forced to choose between ingrained prejudice and paternal love. He makes his big moment the movie's biggest moment as well.

Produced by Nick Wechsler, directed by Niki Caro, written by Michael Seitzman, music by Gustavo Santaolalla, distributed by Warner Bros.

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