North Country

Movie Review by Dan Spiers

Starring: Charlize Theron, Elle Petersen, Thomas Curtis, Frances McDormand

Director: Niki Caro

NORTH COUNTRY, directed by Niki Caro, is based upon the true story of a landmark American sexual harassment case. Set in Minnesota during the early 1980’s it stars Charlize Theron as Josey Aimes, a single mother of two trying to achieve independence from her abusive ex-partner.

The only place Josie can earn a decent enough wage to support her children is the local mine. But the mine is suffering redundancies and life-long male workers the indignity of unemployment. As a consequence, Man, he not like Woman, and the female miners are ostracized inside and outside the mine.

In a prehistoric beating of chests the men rail at Josie’s desire for equality. Excrement is smeared on the walls of the female locker room, moisturizer is replaced with semen and sexual assault carried out. It is after this assault that Josie, with the help of local attorney Bill White (Woody Harrelson), decides to prosecute.

With such a story line it would have been unsurprising to find Heather Locklear playing the part of a breast jutting Josey Aimes in a TV mini-series. Thankfully this is not the case and it is an intelligent, gritty account of a groundbreaking time in American law and industry.

Caro wastes no time in depicting just how hard life is for the folk of northern Minnesota. The climate is arctic, the work foul, in fact it’s a bit like Grimsby on the north eastern coast of England, but you can’t get a fish supper for less than a pound.

What Caro also does effectively is make sure that the mine is at the heart of events. With the recurrent scream of straining machinery, shots of the quarried, scarred landscape and events within impacting directly on the community outside, the mine is simply inescapable.

In and around the mine, a strong ensemble cast, led impressively by Theron, manages to be thoroughly convincing in their collective repression of frustration and pain. Although the conclusion is predictable, it is credit to both director and actors that NORTH COUNTRY never fails to engage.

The only miscalculation seems to be the end of the movie itself. Throughout, what appeals is convincing characterization and the reaction of characters to events. But after the trial, this seems to be forsaken for a cheap sugar-rush. NORTH COUNTRY is a celebration of the human spirit, but with icing and a cherry on top it is a disappointing conclusion to an otherwise commendable film.

4 out of 6 stars

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