North Country
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Niki Caro
scr Michael Seitzman
with Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins, Sissy Spacek, Woody Harrelson, Sean Bean, Michelle Monaghan, Thomas Curtis, Jeremy Renner, Chris Mulkey, Corey Stoll, Rusty Schwimmer
release US 21.Oct.05, UK 3.Feb.06
05/US Warners 2h06

Cheering the underdog: McDormand, Theron, Curtis and Harrelson

jenkins spacek bean

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North Country Elegantly filmed and intelligently written, this important story is told in a no-frills way that makes the most of its terrific cast and the historical events, but never lets it really blossom as a movie.

After she finally gets fed up with her violent husband, Josey (Theron) packs up her young son (Curtis) and heads home to northern Minnesota, where her parents (Jenkins and Spacek) still struggle to cope with her black-sheep reputation. Josey goes to work with friends (McDormand and Monaghan) at the local iron mine, and soon finds it impossible to cope with an atmosphere in which the men routinely humiliate women for invading "their" world. After meeting a lawyer (Harrelson), Josey decides to take them on.

Based on the true story of the first sexual harassment class-action lawsuit, this is a pivotal moment in history. What's most shocking is that this kind of thing was still going on in 1989 (and probably continues in more places than we'd care to admit). That men thought they could get away with treating anyone this way, let alone their own wives and daughters, is astonishing. And as Josey courageously stands up to the system, the film beautifully highlights a simple struggle for justice that has universal ramifications.

Theron is, of course, superb--steely and yet vulnerable, with especially powerful scenes between her and Curtis. Both Jenkins and Spacek add human resonance with their flawed but truthful reactions to their daughter. And McDormand shines in a role that seems almost crafted to get an Oscar nomination, with the excellent Bean in an understated but rock-solid role as her husband.

Director Caro (Whale Rider) beautifully captures the chilly setting, keeping the pace slow and steady, which at times feels rather too straightforward, plodding and aloof. But the clever script casually comments on the machismo that subtly infects all of society, from background glimpses of the Anita Hill hearings to dialog and situations that refuse to state the obvious. It feels slightly incomplete, concentrating on the legal precedent without delving into the fallout. But this is a vital story that's told with integrity and skill.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 9.Nov.05

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2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall