A powerful story and reliable cast make North Country a significant movie—about the first woman to lead a sexual harassment class action suit in the US.
Charlize Theron’s (Monster) movies are nearly always cleverly scripted and well characterized (except perhaps Aeon Flux). This and her impeccable acting skills ensure that North Country is another winner. The film follows the horrific experiences of Josey Aimes (Theron), a single mother trying to make a living working in a mine. The women there face literally unspeakable sexual harassment, but Aimes, with a truly courageous spirit, fights the prejudices of her fellow workers, employers and entire community—by speaking out when no one else will.
That this confrontation film is based on a true story makes it even more compelling. The prospect is pretty bleak throughout but, despite the harrowing events, director Niki Caro (Whale Rider) still manages to inspire. Caro treats the problem of sexual harassment delicately and with the respect it deserves, showing it to be more than just a workplace issue: It’s one that affects every aspect of Aimes’s life.
A superb cast supports Theron’s strong performance. Woody Harrelson (The People vs. Larry Flint) is convincing as the jaded lawyer eventually persuaded to help Aimes bring her precedent-breaking lawsuit against the mine. The always brilliant Frances MacDormand (Fargo) plays Aimes’ colleague, a woman trying to fight the same battle in a different way. Sissy Spacek (Coal Miner’s Daughter) and Richard Jenkins (Shall We Dance) are Aimes’s parents, whose fractured relationship with their daughter compounds Aimes’s woes.
Despite being an all-star cast, Hollywood film, North Country manages to stay away from being too clichéd.
The penultimate courtroom scene is a little OTT (not quite the standing-on-the-desks scene in Dead Poet’s Society, but it’s getting there), but it’s bearable, and doesn’t detract from the overall film. North Country is a strong offer that critics will rave about. It is Theron’s answer to Russell Crowe’s Cinderella Man, and proves that Monster was no accident. As a character actor, Theron is at the top of her game.—Aimee Chan