by John Boonstra - October 27, 2005
Think that Charlize Theron's Oscar for Monster was a fluke, or just the result of stunt casting? Think again. She's superb in Niki Caro's frequently harrowing North Country , a fictionalized version of a benchmark legal case. Theron plays Josey Aimes, a struggling single mom who becomes a coal miner in northern Minnesota. It's the first good money she's made in her life, but every day she and the handful of other women who work every bit as hard as their male peers encounter rancid harassment from men who believe they're "stealing" male jobs. The seat-squirming abuse runs the gamut from crude drawings on the bathroom walls to vulgar epithets muttered sotto voce in passing to dildos left in lunchboxes. In the end, pushed to the breaking point, Josey finds a lawyer (Woody Harrelson) willing to file class-action sexual harassment charges against her employer. It's a first, and if it works, it will set a precedent protecting women nationwide.
Frances McDormand, Sean Bean, Woody Harrelson, Sissy Spacek and Richard Jenkins are among the fine players on view. The script stuffs in a few too many crises for its own good (a flashback to a teenaged rape; a key character debilitated by disease), but the essential drama of the core tale remains vivid. Between this and her previous Whale Rider , director Caro is plainly a force to contend with. As for Theron, her forthcoming fluff ( Aeon Flux ) notwithstanding, she's an actor who's willing to get her hands dirty. Her risks pay off.