North Country (2005)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBB

USA, 2005.  Warner Bros., Industry Entertainment, Participant Media, Nick Wechsler Productions.  Screenplay by , based on the book Class Action: The Story Of Lois Jensen and the Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law by , .  Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  

Charlize Theron stars in this true story about a woman who fought and won the first class-action sexual harassment suit against a major American company. An abused wife with two children, she bundles her family into her car and leaves her husband, moving back home to Minnesota and staying with her parents (Richard Jenkins, Sissy Spacek) until she can get herself on her feet again. Hearing that the local mine pays very well (and thanks to new legislation requires a certain amount of women to fill positions), she gets a job there and is suddenly subject to disgusting treatment by the tough-guys who work with her. Not only her, but all the women at the plant are attacked, insulted and degraded until Theron decides to stand up for her rights out of fear for her dignity, and at one point, her life. What Niki Caro’s compelling film makes sure we understand is that one of Theron’s greatest opponents to her case is not the hardheadedness of the men up against her (though they’re a pretty impressive obstacle), but the unwillingness of the women at her work to rock the boat and risk losing their jobs. Theron gives a beautifully understated performance, riveting in every scene, but she isn’t backed up well enough by the screenplay. Much of the story focuses on her personal life, which has an interesting fallout of its own, but Caro never makes it gel comfortably enough with the sequences that deal with her professional struggle. The whole cast is a knockout, especially Frances McDormand as her coworker (and sole female union representative), Woody Harrelson as her friend and lawyer and Spacek as her slowly empowered mother. It will remind viewers a bit too much of the superior Silkwood, Erin Brockovich or Norma Rae, but it’s still well worth watching for its best qualities: Theron’s work, and the unflinchingly detailed description of misogyny that we’d like to think doesn’t exist anymore.

Academy Award Nominations:  Best Actress (Charlize Theron); Best Supporting Actress (Frances McDormand)

Golden Globe Award Nominations:  Best Actress-Drama (Charlize Theron); Best Supporting Actress (Frances McDormand)

Screen Actors Guild Award Nominations:  Best Actress (Charlize Theron); Best Supporting Actress (Frances McDormand)

Toronto International Film Festival:  2005

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