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I had every expectation that I was going to love North Country. It was directed by Niki Caro, who made the wonderful Whale Rider, may favorite movie of 2002. It has great stars in Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, and Sissy Spacek. And it has Woody Harrelson, who, despite his goofus image, has the habit of appearing in good films. Crucially, I wanted North Country to be terrific. It's the first movie I saw since Katrina changed everything, and I desperately wanted to be transported. Alas, North Country is a sizeable disappointment, a movie so overwrought it undermines its own worthy political sentiments.

Based (very loosely) on the life of Lois Jensen, a Minnesota miner who changed American corporate policy when she successfully sued her company for sexual harassment, North Country is the fictional story of Josey Aimes (Theron), a working-class girl who bears two children by different fathers and ends up at age thirty with a man who beats her. After ditching him, she seeks the dirty work in her hometown mine because that's the way she can make the most money and provide the best life for her children. Unfortunately, the men at the local mine, including Josey's own sour father (Richard Jenkins), are charter members in the Male Chauvinist Monsters Hall of Shame. These guys aren't just unenlightened sexists; they are lying, perjuring, battering rapists. They don't deserve to be sued so much as arrested and sent for correction to Abu Ghraib prison.

North Country was written by Michael Seitzman, and his script's utter lack of subtlety is the problem. In the process of trying to provide her kids with a decent life, Josey encounters a schoolmate, a teacher, a husband, a father, an area boss, a pack of co-workers, a foreman and a CEO, all best described as fiends from hell. Her female co-workers are either sexpots or cowards or both. Only one other person in town, including Josey's mom (Spacek), has an ounce of gumption, her pal Glory (McDormand), who immediately begins to expire from Lou Gehrig's disease. In the end, Seitzman gives us an inexplicable character reversal, a speech by lawyer Harrelson that would have landed a real barrister in jail for contempt, a weepy moment between mother and son that belongs in another movie, and a narrative steal from Spartacus that would be plagiarism if it weren't executed so awkwardly. The defeat of workplace sexual harassment is historically important; this rendering of how it happened is embarrassingly incompetent.

click to enlarge Used and abused: Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron) is a - miner fighting sexual harassment in Niki Caro's fact- - based film, North Country.
  • Used and abused: Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron) is a miner fighting sexual harassment in Niki Caro's fact- based film, North Country.


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