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North Country

A movie directed by Niki Caro

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Northern Chill, Broken Ice

  • Jul 24, 2006
  • by
What a curious beast is the homo sapien -- of either gender. And yet at some point in our lives, if we are to be honest, haven't we all ducked behind some wall of safety, even when it means an increase to our own suffering? It is one of the more shadowy sides of human nature. We are hurt, and yet when our peers, equally hurt alongside us, we still side with an enemy rather than confront the unspeakable. History is filled to bursting with such cases.

"North Country," directed by Niki Caro and starring Charlize Theron in the lead role of Josey Aimes (with a strong performance by Frances McDormand as her friend and coworker, later suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease) is based on a true story about a landmark sexual harrassment class action suit filed by a female mine worker in northern Minnesota in the late 1980s/early 90s. As the movie opens, Josey is the victim of repeated domestic violence, and at last she breaks free of a bad marriage and returns to her hometown in Minnesota with her two children to start a new life. As we put together bits and pieces of her past, we, the audience, realize this is a woman born into a mining family (her father, Hank Aimes as played by Richard Jenkins, still works in the mines and is angry when his daughter invades his territory, so to speak, and takes on work in "his" mine) and with a troubled youth. Her children have different fathers, and the community in which she grew up is not forgiving of what that implies about a young woman's choices. But she has spunk, we see that early on, because it takes courage to leave an abusive marriage, and it takes courage to stand up to a father whose approval she can't help craving, as all daughters surely do. And it takes a great deal of courage to take a job in a male-dominated field like mining.

Yet Josey doesn't necessarily strike us as being a "hero." She's not looking for a fight. She's not looking to make waves. She's a single mother trying to support her kids, buy a modest house, put food on the table. In this town, few jobs are available, but the most lucrative is mining. Why not. She's willing to work hard for a buck.

But Josey's coworkers are not so willing. The worst of human nature soon surfaces. Men at the mine resent women, citing few jobs as the cause, but it is apparent that is but an excuse for male posturing and sexual assault. One wonders how the male would behave without legal constraints to rein in his testosterone. Certainly this is a nightmare to watch. The few female miners are constantly tormented. Obscene gestures and drawings on walls are the least of their troubles. They must endure being groped and grabbed, they can't open their lockers or lunchboxes without finding, shall we say, reminders of male anatomy and its functions. At worst, they are threatened with rape. But the women endure it all, keeping brave faces to their tormentors, staying strong.

There's a different kind of strength, though, and perhaps it is the hardest to achieve. The strength required to stand up against such tormentors and say enough is enough, draw firm boundaries for acceptable behavior, and to stand alone against screaming masses -- few of us can reach that kind of heroism. "North Country" shows how a community works overtime to keep its ugliest secrets secret, how individuals sink into deep denial, how even friends will betray friends rather than risk sticking their necks out. Josey herself submits and submits and submits, until she can submit no more. To watch the progressing of the abuse these women must endure is painful, as it should be. To watch how the abused women themselves conspire to keep their torment hidden is most painful of all, yet that too appears in society today in various guises.

A court drama, thankfully not drawn out too long, with Woody Harrelson playing Josey's somewhat reluctant lawyer, brings the situation to a head. As another voice at long last joins Josey's in addressing the harrassment, one by one, more rise to join the chorus.

If this is not perhaps the most excellent movie I've seen in terms of script or scene or story, it is an important statement, an enlightening look at the shame of both genders when committing or enabling sexual harrassment, of a community quick to judge in order to protect one's sheltered little worlds. As the saying, paraphrased, goes, if one person anywhere must endure such abuse, we are all guilty. There are opportunities every day to speak up and speak out against the objectification of human beings, about the cruelties of one group against another. "North Country" is a reminder to do so. Every voice matters, if only because it gives courage to the next voice.

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More North Country reviews
review by . December 19, 2008
I bought North Country because it was on sale for about $3 and because it's similar in theme to Erin Brockovich in that it chronicles a group of people's struggle to bring a large company to justice.     However, this film just didn't cut it for me. Basically, for 80% of the movie, you follow the main character and her own personal struggles (starting over after a divorce) and a group of female employees' struggle with controlling sexual harassment at work. Yet, unlike Erin Brockovich, …
review by . August 20, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Thinking 'North Country' would not live up to the hype, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself so involved in the thick of a gripping gender drama. Alternating between the witness stand and the reenactment of the recall of the plaintiff, the film focuses on the life of Josie Aimes, (Charlize Theron) with her groundbreaking story of sexual harassment. Living on the iron range of Minnesota, the lifestyle of everyone bears all the elements with true grit. Josie, who finds her ex- unbearable and …
review by . May 17, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Somewhat compelling story      Cons: An issue difficult to care about explained in a haphazard way      The Bottom Line: I recommend the film for people who like issue movies; if you don't, nothing is compelling in this one for you.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot.      First there was Norma Rae then there was Silkwood. The first movie was about a woman’s …
review by . June 19, 2006
I could say that this movie is good because of cast reasons and there's some things in this movie you can't miss. But being good for cast reasons doesn't make a film good; "North Country" is a regular piece. The only problem with films taken from real life events is that they need to be true to the time and space where those events occurred. Director, Nikki Caro, seems to be more worried about getting tears out of our eyes than about showing us she's directing something that actually happened.   &nbs …
review by . February 23, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
NORTH COUNTRY is a tough movie to watch - and that is why it is so fine and important. The story exudes out of the characters surrounding the first class action suit for sexual harassment in the workplace and it would be difficult to imagine a more dour and gritty depiction of what women iron miners faced in Northern Minnesota than that director Niki Caro (Whale Rider) has molded out of Clara Bingham's book and Michael Seitzman's screenplay. Though overly long (in excess of two hours) the film does …
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Zinta Aistars ()
Ranked #134
I am the creative director, writer and editor at Z Word, LLC, and correspondent for southwest Michigan's NPR affiliate station, where I do on-air author interviews.
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A sterling cast and vivid direction giveNorth Countryan emotional heft to match its political convictions. Charlize Theron (Monster) plays Josey Aimes, who goes to work at a Minnesota steel mine after splitting with her violent husband.
Frances McDormand and Charlize
Theron in North Country.
But the job proves to be almost as harrowing as her marriage; the male miners, resentful of women taking jobs, verbally abuse and play humiliating pranks on the female miners. After being physically assaulted by a coworker, Josey tries to fight against the harassment, but none of the other women will join her case for fear that things will only get worse.North Country, directed by Niki Caro (Whale Rider), makes the women's experience palpable for the audience without overdoing it. But the lawsuit is only part of the movie; the gut impact ofNorth Countrycomes from the devastating effect the lawsuit has on Josey's family, friends, and coworkers--thanks to an incredible ensemble cast that includes Sissy Spacek (In the Bedroom), Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings), Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under), Woody Harrelson (The People vs. Larry Flynt), and the always powerful Frances McDormand (Fargo,Mississippi Burning). The courtroom histrionics don't always ring true, but the family conflict is riveting and deeply moving. Based on the bookClass Action: The Story of Lois Jenson and the Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law. --Bret Fetzer

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