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7 reviews, 16 user ratings

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North Country
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by Erik Childress

"Now THAT Is Some Sexual Harassment!"
4 stars

As if men and women needed something else to fight about, sexual harassment and the prominence it took in this country after the Anita Hill hearings were enough for men to cry foul and women even fouler. Feminists now had an easy button to press to call attention to unfair work environments and chauvinists (or not) now had to watch their mouths, their eyes and every other thing as they bemoaned another step towards a politically correct society. Remember the first major Hollywood production in this time to take on the issue was Michael Crichton’s Disclosure where it was the man being harassed by the comely Demi Moore. There are enough frivolous accusations in this area to warrant a slap (location at your discretion), but the first major class action depicted with minimal cliché-rattling in Niki Caro’s North Country is one-sided enough to make Clarence Thomas stand up and shout – “Now THAT is some sexual harassment.”

Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron) has been a victim to some form of abuse most of her life. The physical abuse endured during her recent marriage and the emotional abuse from an unsympathetic father (Richard Jenkins) turn out to be just the prologue. Her friend, Glory (Frances McDormand) plants the seed of greater income for her two children in the local taconite mines; a job Josey’s father has made the bread & butter for his own family all her life. She gets hired and right away is made aware by the foreman (Xander Berkeley) that women are second-class citizens there and aren’t exactly welcome.

At first its just sex talk; nasty, but still just words which the gals can brush off. Bobby Sharp (Jeremy Renner, cornering the market on small town scumbags after playing Jeffrey Dahmer) is almost the ringleader for poster boy chauvinism and takes a few instances with Josey too far. When corporate fails to address her concerns, she turns to Bill White (Woody Harrelson), a local hero on the hockey rink-turned-lawyer who warns her of the “nuts-n-sluts” defense awaiting her in court. (Is it wrong to think that's a great name for a bar?) A woman in her position either imagined it or was asking for it. Either way, the other women at the mines would rather shut up, take it and fall in line instead of stirring up trouble.

Niki Caro’s previous film was the wonderful Whale Rider which also dealt with a female (in this case, a 12-year old) trying to fight years of tradition to become the first girl in the typical all-male tribes. That was also a deeply affecting film which rarely misstepped because Caro created an environment where the characters controlled the landscape of emotion as opposed to inventing them to steer us towards her point of view. A vast array of subplots and characters will test a director to satisfy all of them and Caro succeeds in this regard in uniting everyone into a whole that has us less focused on stereotypes and more on the big picture.

Let me clarify in saying that Michael Seitzman’s script doesn’t deal in yokel caricatures, but when you look close does represent the stereotypes (for better or worse) we come to expect in true-life tales. Much like Thelma and Louise and The Accused, there are extremes on both sides. Renner and Berkeley can’t open their mouths without leaking an insult and others like Harrelson and Glory’s husband (Sean Bean, in another really nice understated performance alongside this year’s Flightplan) are the true nice guys looking out for the women who come into their lives. Harrelson won’t even take a shot at the 19-year old mine worker (Michelle Monaghan) who comes on to him as he’s in such a fragile place after his divorce.

Charlize Theron again downplays her glamour (except in a couple of shots where she’s the only one without any grit on her face) but turns in a far more natural performance than her Oscar-winning ticks-n-makeup role in Monster. McDormand is the spunky Northern lass and Sissy Spacek doesn’t get to do much more than play a Coal Miner’s Mother. The film’s best work comes from Richard Jenkins as Theron’s father. Jenkins has been one of the most reliable and recognizable character actors for years, but as the one character who has a full emotional arc in the film culminating with not just a stand-up speech to his fellow workers but a courtroom boil over that, directorially, seems forced but works because we know the point Jenkins has reached with the character.

The last fifteen minutes are a little too precious to go along with. It’s appropriate in satisfying the emotional element but feels more out of a lawyer’s comic book fantasy come true. (Who on the prosecution never thought of the implications of bringing the teacher to court?) North Country works best in the moment as a piece of chest-beating drama and as seen through Josey’s eyes allows even the men in the audience to despise the increasingly revolting behavior exhibited upon her and the other women at the mines. Caro shows probably as much restraint as she can for a subject matter that clearly hits her in the heart. There’s very little question as to who is in the right here. A bit more ambiguity (just a tad) would have been more challenging instead of just allowing the “hooker with bad eyesight” offense to be Josey’s greatest obstacle. There may be the element of how men and women have been handling their problems since Adam & Eve, but even the staunchest of feminists would have to agree that Adam had a case back then. But maybe Eve had a legit beef in who eventually wrote that story.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12822&reviewer=198
originally posted: 10/21/05 00:29:12
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Chicago Film Festival For more in the 2005 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2005 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/02/10 MP Bartley Powerful in parts, but shamelessly and grubbily obvious. 3 stars
8/28/08 Shaun Wallner Interesting storyline. 4 stars
4/25/07 nancie belianne i enjoyed this film dispite some disturbing scenes. 3 stars
12/13/06 galaxy its a nice movie... 4 stars
11/06/06 Alexis Brilliant acting, kudos to Frances McDormand, fairly watered down for a 'true story' 4 stars
6/30/06 Phil M. Aficionado Stick to the book or make a documentary. Why waste good acting this kind of thing? 3 stars
2/22/06 ES Sad, didn't buy Woody as the lawyer but a worth while watch 4 stars
12/17/05 ownerofdajoint Treron is great as the victim of our corporate slavemasters total domination 5 stars
11/06/05 Rocha Ana This movie made me feel mad. 4 stars
11/06/05 Nancy Stanina Contrary to the reviews views, these things did happen and are still happening some places 5 stars
10/31/05 Jeff Unbelievable film, Inspiring, One of the best ever 5 stars
10/26/05 Michael Kondo A very good and moving movie, a must see 5 stars
10/22/05 baseball-nut This is a very good flick ... a must buy movie if you liked Norma Rae! 5 stars
9/28/05 E. Northam An accurate & ugly indictment of the plight of sexually harrassed women at a mining site. 4 stars
9/13/05 Matt Parker A Hollywood picture with the naturalistic, emotional signature of Niki Caro... 5 stars
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  21-Oct-2005 (R)
  DVD: 21-Feb-2006

  03-Feb-2006 (15)

  02-Feb-2006 (MA)

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