North Country

North Country


Reviewed by: David Stanners

After her success in Monster, Charlize Theron seems to be packing punches for the gritty underdog, fighting for survival. North Country, directed by Niki Caro (Whale Rider), recounts a landmark lawsuit, led by Josey Aimes (Theron), a Minnesota coal miner, who, along with her vastly outnumbered female colleagues, was subjected to an ongoing tirade of sexist abuse.

Set in 1989, 14 years after the first female entered the mines in Minnesota, the male/female ratio was still 30/1. This was enough to encourage the most horrifying punitive acts by the macho majority. Getting away with their "no ratting, turn the other cheek" all boy network policy, the female employees faced no end of torment, until Aimes' stand in court.

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From the word go, the odds are stacked against her, a single mother with a bolshy teenage son, a younger daughter and an abusive husband on the way out. In addition, she carries the weight of a disturbing secret from high school, the wrath of a disapproving father and the need to make ends meet.

As a rookie, the mine is unbearable, but she soon takes comfort in Glory (Frances McDormand), a friendly but tough female union rep, who's been round the block plenty and owns the perfect ticket on how to play hard ball with the men without making too many waves. Campaigning discreetly and firmly for her girls, she finally wins the right for separate portaloos. When granted, even the most basic labour concessions are too much for the guys. In the most callous of pranks, one day the shit quite literally hits the fan, as Sherry (Michelle Monaghan) a young, vulnerable employee uses the facilities, during which the men shake the thing so violently it collapses. You needn't stretch your imagination much further, but understandably female trauma ensues.

This is one step too far for Josey, who takes her grievances to higher places, but to no avail. In a last ditch effort, she opts for legal action against the will of her female colleagues, who live in fear of losing their only means of bread and butter. In pops Woody Harrelson, an ex ice hockey star and local lawyer. Reluctantly, he accepts the case, more because of its unprecedented nature and the chance of making a name for himself in legal history.

There is plenty to admire about North Country. It has a sharp pungent script, superb performances across the board, particularly McDormand in a supporting role, although more development of her character would have been welcome. The blue-collar setting is conveyed authentically with plenty drunken scenes in bars, dirty jokes and ritual slagging matches. Caro lends a strong hand to her female leads and is always clear about the direction they take, never succumbing to sentimentality, but leaving room for vulnerability.

Other characters, however, have been left to dwindle, particularly Josey's mother, played by Sissy Spacek, who is a tremendous talent with little to say. Also, more should have been made of Sean Bean's role, as Glory's husband, who pops up intermittently, lending a guiding hand to Josey's son, who feels interminably neglected.

In the end the film's backbone is its story, its message and its real life benefits reaped across America and beyond.

Reviewed on: 03 Feb 2006
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One woman fights sexual harassment in the mines of Northern Minnesota.
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Read more North Country reviews:

The Exile ****
Chris ***

Director: Niki Caro

Writer: 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 Gansler

Starring: Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, Sean Bean, Woody Harrelson, Richard Jenkins, Sissy Spacek, Thomas Curtis, Elle Peterson, Jeremy Renner, James Cada

Year: 2005

Runtime: 126 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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