Film Review: North Country

To get away and relax between two very busy weeks, I took off early and joined my parents at the movies.

North Country starring Charlize Theron is the powerful story of a woman who only wanted to make a good life for her children. Facing obstacle after obstacle – an abusive husband, an emotionally absent father, and a rebellious son – Josie Aimes decided to start her life over and took a job at a northern Minnesota mine. From the very first day, Josie comes to realize just how tough her job is going to be as she makes her way through a hostile male-dominated workplace in the early 80s. After repeated acts of sexual harassment and assault, Josie takes matters into her own hands and sues the company for its treatment of all of the female employees.

Based on the true story of a landmark sexual harassment case, North Country is a heavy film to watch. Nearly every male character – aside from burned out lawyer Woody Harrelson, compassionate father figure Sean Bean and a few other minor parts – exhibits the despicable traits of sexism, often making it very frustrating to watch as a seemingly unending barrage of offenses are thrown at the women of the movie. Aside from Theron’s strong-willed, yet vulnerable portrayal of Josie Aimes is the wonderful supporting role of the ever-amazing Frances McDormand as the wise union rep who takes Josie in.

The film is told in a broken format where scenes from the trial are interwoven with episodes of Josie’s experience as well as the unfolding story of a high school trauma. This style is adequately done and does not get in the way of the story. One of the only negative aspects of the film, from a storyteller’s perspective, was the final couple of minutes – prior to the “where they are now” paragraphs that one is accustomed to seeing at the end of these docu-dramas. This short scene seemed unnecessary and took a little away from the climactic, though somewhat predictable, courtroom scene and subsequent denouement.

Some viewers have said that this movie is a poor attempt by Hollywood to present the issue of sexual harassment and doesn’t do enough to represent the realities – particularly by “seeing a beautiful woman uglied” in “a typical courtroom drama with manipulative music and adorable children”. Sometimes the realities of life are just too harsh to be fully explored through film. While North Country may not do justice to the graphic nature of what actually happened – or, sadly, what may continue to happen elsewhere – it succeeds in saturating the viewer’s experience with the issue and bringing it to the forefront of your mind in a way somewhat reminiscent of Philadelphia.

The film has a solid cast and script but its Oscar-worthiness may fall short of some expectations. I enjoyed this movie – inasmuch as one can enjoy a movie about sexual harassment and assault – and definitely recommend it without reservation. Look for Theron’s reliable vulnerability and courage alongside McDormand’s impressive performance.

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