North Country

Although North Country has many things going for it, an overly melodramatic script, especially in the third act, weighs down an otherwise strong movie. This is especially disappointing for director Niki Caro (Memory & Desire), whose last film, the similarly themed Whale Rider was able to pack an emotional wallop without going over the top. Caro is able to coax good performances out of stars Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, and a moving one from Richard Jenkins. North Country, based on the book Class Action: The Story of Lois Jensen and the Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy, recounts the case (well, a fictionalized retelling of the case) that CHANGED THE WAY companies do business.

Regardless of how one feels about equality in the workplace today, it is clear that things have come a long way. The events portrayed in the film take only place a little more than twenty years ago, and seem horrifically base and outdated. Josey Aimes (Theron, Head in the Clouds, Monster) returns home to rural Minnesota to put the pieces of her life back together. To say that she had an unlucky life to this point was an understatement. She finds a job at the mine, and is doing her best to support her children Karen (Elle Peterson) and Sammy (Thomas Curtis, Hansel & Gretel, Red Dragon). The idea of women in the workplace, especially in what people considered a "male" industry like mining, was still extremely new. Times were not great, so there was a tremendous amount of resentment directed towards the women working there. The men felt that every woman there took one job away from a perfectly able man. Even her father (Jenkins, Shall We Dance, I [Heart] Huckabees) is not speaking with her because she took the job.

The point that Caro, Bingham, Leedy, (and any rational person for that matter) want to make is that the women are there for the same reason the men are: to work. They should have a fair chance at succeeding at a job, and they should be able to work in an environment that respects them. Caro and adapter Michael Seitzman (Here on Earth, Farmer & Chase) do a strong job of showing how hard the women miners had it. For much of the movie, the viewer is subjected to all sorts of harassment - derogatory comments, assault, vandalism, and other assorted forms things. It's pretty sickening, and there's very little the women can do. Any time they bring up a complaint, it is ignored, and the harassment usually increases. For Aimes, this is too much. She was so happy to get the job, only to find that working there was pure hell. Her complaints go nowhere, so she finally decides to sue. Her lawyer, Bill White (Woody Harrelson, After the Sunset, She Hate Me) continually informs her that it is a long shot, but by now everybody knows how the case ended (well, just look at the book's title).

While the first two thirds are good, Caro still is not able to make the film entirely convincing. Yes, what the mine did was wrong, and yes, the men are very demeaning to the women, but North Country never takes the next step in quality to make the film great. And the court scenes at the end are the primary contributor. Caro and Seitzman opt to fill the script with courtroom theatrics often seen in television. Yes, it makes the scene itself more dramatic, but also cheapens the overall film. The stuff that happens in this court only happens in movie courts. The facts are compelling enough and do not need any help. The fact that Theron's performance comes away unscathed says a lot. She is very convincing as a broken woman, trying to do everything she can just to get by. Again, she deglamorizes herself so people will not be distracted and focuses on the role at hand. Theron has to put up with a lot in the film, so it's easy to empathize with her reactions. However, the real star is Jenkins. Jenkins has been in a huge number of films, but always in supporting roles. His gift is that he can disappear into his roles, providing great utility support. People always recognize him, but they're not sure from where, and this shows how good he can be. North Country gives him his first chance to really shine. As Aimes' father, he has deal with conflicting emotions. He is extremely angry with his daughter for many of her bad choices in life. He is angry that she is working at the mine with him. Yet, he is increasingly disgusted with the actions he sees at work directed towards her. While Theron may be the star of the film, Jenkins is the heart.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
2 hours, 6 minutes, Rated R for sequences involving sexual harassment including violence and dialogue, and for language.

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