A fictionalized account of the first major successful sexual harassment case in the United States -- Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines, where a woman who endured a range of abuse while working as a miner filed and won the landmark 1984 lawsuit.
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A semi-fictionalized account of a long legal battle of group of women miners who endured a hostile work environment and numerous and continuous insults and unwanted touching when they became the first women to go work at the Eveleth Mines in Minnesota. Written by
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Lady, you sit in your nice house, clean floors, your bottled water, your flowers on Valentine's Day, and you think you're tough? Wear my shoes. Tell me tough. Work a day in the pit, tell me tough.
I'm sure we're all sufficiently impressed, Mrs. Aimes.
There's no "Mrs." here.
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Come for the character actors, leave planning to research
My mother is the breadwinner of my household. Not long ago, this fact would've been unforeseeable but if it were to be the truth, the dominant male of said household would likely be viewed as feeble and a disgrace to his sex. In present times, that fact just is, with a recent study showing four in ten households with children under age eighteen make more money than their husbands across America.
Try going back in time and telling that future fact to the arrogant, prideful male mineworkers in Niki Caro's North Country, who react with animal-like dominance upon meeting Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron). Josie is a single mother with two kids from two different men who must suffer through the hellish work environment and employee treatment when she gets a job working in the mining-field. This is during the time that employment law in America has been amended to now recognize women able to perform manual labor (or, in that time, a "man's job").
The first half of the film documents Josey's courageous attempt to assimilate herself in with these male mineworkers, along with the few females that also took the courageous challenge as well. Josey is treated disrespectfully by most all the men, but none quite like the treatment she receives by Bobby Sharp (Jeremy Renner), an old high school sweetheart. After repeated slandering, vicious torment, and instances of sexual harassment, Josey finds Bill White (Woody Harrelson), a local attorney who can hopefully help in filing a class action lawsuit against the minefield and hopefully establish something resembling a women's rights division in the workplace.
This kind of material lends itself to film. It's material we constantly hear about, and the kind that fills us with vigor and energy seeing it unfold. Thankfully, we have the likes of Theron, Renner, and Harrelson to constantly keep the film and its setups intriguing, while we have many scenes adequately showing the brutal conditions of the minefield, not just because of the work involved but because of its employees. However, North Country is heavily dramatized, meaning it has been made more interesting for the screen, so not only do we get to see Josey's legal battle unfold we also watch her relationship with her parents along with her son, who thinks nothing significant of her. This kind of drama overshadows what the film is really about - women's rights in the workplace. The film rightfully spends half of its time in the minefield, but the other half should've been loaned to the efforts of documenting a fierce, incorruptible legal battle the real Josey Aimes (named Laura Leedy Gansler) fought for fifteen long years.
What we get instead of a devilishly interested legal battle is one that feels tacked on by writer Michael Seitzman as if it was a footnote. We get unrealistic behavior in the courtroom by Harrelson and Renner, whose statements seemed to be predicated off of the power buzzwords and theatrics can possess during the climax of a film. I was reminded of the nudging artificiality in the film A Few Good Men where, by the end, the actors are clearly putting on a show for us and the cameras, the lights, and the set designers have made the room so congested that there is hardly any room for behavior that doesn't seem to be for the cameras to take place.
North Country's goal, above any other, seems to be providing us with entertainment, not exactly knowledge. Its dependence on melodrama is equal parts interesting as it is exhausting. It hits certain heights, one scene in particular involving Josey's teenage son, who is in the surly and ungrateful phase of shortchanging his mother's efforts and writing her off as the town slut. He is then given a valuable lesson by one of his mother's friends about how Josey never gave up on him, despite circumstances and complications where it would've been perfectly acceptable to do such a thing. This scene is extremely important because it reminds people, specifically kids, the value of their parents and the importance of appreciating them and not taking them for granted.
However, it seems for every strong scene that resonates without being too didactic, there's one with questionable circumstances or one that emphasizes way too heavily on theatrics and emotion manipulation, effectively muddying a strong point of the project to follow. Courtroom dramas are difficult to do well, but North Country would've benefited from more scenes emphasizing Josey's struggle to rightfully reform a section of employment law rather than mend her family struggles, many of which seem nothing more than convenient instances of dissent carried beyond the lines of immaturity (specifically the way her father and son come to treat her).
North Country is worth the price of admission for its great band of character actors, all of whom could be considered at the top of their game, and director Niki Caro's sensitive depiction of a tough topic. It can be only partially forgiven for the way it toys with its focus onto something of lesser importance in the long run.
NOTE: This review was read before my Business Law class my senior year of high school in 2014.
Starring: Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, Sean Bean, Richard Jenkins, Michelle Monaghan, Jeremy Renner, Woody Harrelson, and Sissy Spacek. Directed by: Niki Caro.
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