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I hate to give North Country a relatively low vote because this is such
an important issue, and I appreciate the good intentions of director
Niki Caro, and the A-list actors who no doubt took a big pay cut when
agreeing to take a role.
On the other hand, I feel disappointed, a little angry, as well as insulted as a woman that this hugely important story was made into a melodrama that flattens out what really happened, and somehow manages to diminish the political nature of sexual harassment, even while seeming to highlight it.
At least 90 percent of the problem had to do with Michael Seitzman's script.
In the interview with Seitzman on the DVD, he makes clear that he didn't think the sexual harassment story was the real story. The real story, he said, was the traumatic experience Josie had in high school, and her relationship with her son.
Therefore he should have written a script for Lifetime focusing on what he felt was the "real story". He should not have used one of the most important cases for sexual harassment in legal history as the vehicle for telling this other story.
The producers should have demanded a script that more closely resembled Susannah Grant's Erin Brockovich. The sequence of victimization after victimization depicted in North Country didn't let us get to know Josie's character in any depth. We saw her slammed against the wall again and again, from beginning to end. We see that she stands up against the oppression, but we aren't taken into her sensibility, her choices, her process, her blind spots, character change, etc, etc, like in EB. Likewise, the lack of complexity in the male "macho" characters also flattens the story, and takes away from the real difficulties in challenging sexism and sexual harassment. In real life, character complexity of those who oppress or who defend oppressors is part of what makes the problem of sexual harassment difficult to fight.
I read an interview with Niki Caro, and though I think she's a very talented director, I got the sense that she didn't really get the politics or history behind sexual harassment. It seems things aren't as bad in New Zealand as they are here in the U.S. This is a foreign culture to her, and Northern Minnesota is certainly a foreign culture. I wish she would have spent more time fully understanding the issues and cultural dynamics (including the accent and mannerisms of the area, etc, which were sprinkled into the movie, but not rigorously replicated) before undertaking the project. If she had gone the extra mile to immerse herself in the issue and the region, perhaps she would have demanded a total rewrite of the script.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Through four-fifths of North Country, the audience receives a rare
treat. It's a film that deals with a serious issue, sexual harassment,
in a serious way. It is a compelling drama that is well shot, directed
and acted. It is nothing short of tragic then, that the last fifth of
the film is some of the worst put to screen this year. Screenwriter
Michael Seitzman is no stranger to vastly overblown, yet flat,
melodrama. One can see his Here on Earth for a sample of how ridiculous
his conception of human interaction is. Yet how is it that most of the
film is not only watchable, but truly exceptional, when the ending was
so terrible? The answer probably has more than a little to do with
director Niki Caro. In 2002's Whale Rider Caro guided another
spectacular story about a woman who challenges the gender roles of her
community. It was a beautiful and engaging tale and North Country
starts out the same way.
Presenting a fictional account of the nonfiction book Class Action: The Story of Lois Jensen and the Landmark Case that Changed Sexual Harassment Law, North Country begins on the stand with Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron) being grilled about her sex life. The film then goes back to Aimes' hiring at the mine and the problems she and the other female workers faced there. The harassment was pervasive. It wasn't just catcalls and sexist utterances, though it was those. It was in many cases more or less sexual assault. When Josey felt able to complain about it, she could do so in the Human Resources office, with a pinup calendar staring back at her. It was the type of openly hostile workplace that really makes you wonder, as Josey's dad (Richard Jenkins) does, how is it that so many men can behave so badly? They wouldn't act towards women the same way at a company picnic so why do they do it at work?
Josey's struggle is not made easier by most of her female coworkers. They need the high- paying mine jobs as much as she does and the repercussions for speaking out have been well-illustrated. Unemployment and hungry families are not welcome ideas when there is no reason to believe your complaints will be acted upon. Or at least, acted upon positively. Josey is subjected to degrading and brutal reprisals as are some of the other women despite having not complained themselves. Particularly disgusting, though it's hard to pick out the worst from so many choices, is an instance where Sherry (Michelle Monaghan) finds semen in her locker.
Josey finally gets to court only to have her sex life put on trial. That this is done is no surprise. In the actual case Jensen vs. Eveleth Taconite the women were subjected to detailed examinations of their personal lives after a judge granted the company's lawyers access to their medical records. Where the film begins to falter is when it tries to defend Josey's sex life. Josey's sex life is not the point and never was. By focusing on that it focuses less on how she and her coworkers were routinely terrorized at work. Though her lawyer Bill White (Woody Harrelson) does an adequate job in rebutting arguments, the arguments are ones that need not be addressed. All the court scenes deal with only this.
The struggles of Aimes are based largely on the events of Lois Jensen's Job-like struggle. Where the film fails though, is by trying to rearrange them neatly and add "Oscar moments". Many of the actions, even the ones that seem over the top, actually did happen. But they didn't happen like they do in North Country. Particularly regrettable are a courtroom confrontation between White and Bobby Sharpe (Jeremy Renner) and a surrogate father-son talk between Kyle (Sean Bean) and Sammy (Thomas Curtis). The awful Hollywood legalisms and almost absurdist melodramatic conclusion is a tremendous letdown after a great start and middle. It's worth noting that the missteps happen where the film strays farthest from the true story, the Michael Seitzman coming through maybe. That's not to say that it isn't worth seeing or that is doesn't have brilliant moments, such as Sissy Spacek's one woman wife-strike, it's just that a halfway decent ending would have made this one of the year's best films. Instead it abandons an important and well done story for the sake of, what? Oh well, at least it was better than Disclosure.
Dramatic license is certainly forgivable but this film would have been much more effective if not for the beyond-Perry-Mason touches in the courtroom where the plaintiff's case is rescued at the 11th hour and 59th minute by antics that wouldn't pass muster in any courtroom in America, unless the defendant's attorney (Linda Emond) was utterly incompetent and the judge was a blithering idiot. Surely it should have been possible for a competent script writer to bring the drama to its conclusion in a more believable way. The manifest absurdity of the last 15 minutes of the movie undermined (for me) what was otherwise another excellent performance by Charlize Theron and the usual outstanding work of Frances McDormand. For those who haven't seen her on the stage, this may have been the first time most movie goers will have encountered Linda Emond, who plays the defense attorney. She is a gifted actress who deserves better than being asked to stand by like a cigar store Indian while the plaintiff's attorney (Woody Harrelson) commits every procedural violation that could possibly be conceived. Don't blame Harrelson, however. The one-time goofy bartender of "Cheers" actually does very well in the scenes outside the courtroom. Frankly, I wish this film had stuck more closely to the facts and avoided the phony fireworks at the end.
I thought this would be one of those issue-based legal drama movies
about sexual harassment where the main character is harassed a couple
of times and then she eventually fights back. I was apprehensive about
buying it. I mean I wanted to see it but whether it was worth buying
was another thing. After checking, I decided to gamble. I bought the
DVD and watched it and discovered that 'North Country' is about much
more than sexual harassment. As the film progresses towards the end, we
are addressed more important themes such as the consequence of rape on
the relationship between a mother and child and how her silence is used
as a weapon against her. However, while these issues are interestingly
dealt with and fit the story they slightly deviate from the main theme
of sexual harassment.
Niki Caro does a fine job in directing. Her intentions are sincere. Perhaps the script could have been a little tighter and the courtroom sequences could have been better handled as they are a little too dramatic and unrealistic, especially the judge letting White to argue his case that way. In addition to that, the case became more about Josey's sex life rather than the actual harassment and terrorizing in the workplace. Even though this provides a twist in the story and explains a lot of Josie's situation, it takes away from the main theme. Also most of the male characters have been caricatured. I understand the film is about Josey which may be the reason why these characters weren't given much attention but even Josey's father is portrayed as a misogynist and all of a sudden he is shown to have a change of heart. It would have liked to see this characters inner conflict as he plays a crucial role in Josey's life.
In the technical front, the cinematography is smooth and gives us some spectacular glimpse of the snowy landscape and the coal mines. The sound effect and country-feel soundtrack are quite good too.
Charlize Theron deserves all the recognition she got for giving a strong, confidant and heartfelt performance as the brave hard-working and headstrong Josey Aimes. She breathes fire into her role and, along with Frances McDormand, she's the heart of the film. McDormand performs naturally and her tragic character provides some great comic relief. She has some witty one-liners that bring a smile. While most of the guys are portrayed as nasty sleazy men, Sean Bean's Kyle is the complete opposite. Nonetheless, the actor does a fine job (quite a deviation from what the type of roles he's more famous for). Harrelson's Bill White suffers from poor characterization. His character is a bit too sketchy. Harrelson tries the best with what he's got and turns in a decent enough performance. Richard Jenkins too suffers from poor writing. Sissy Spacek has a tiny role but she has a subtle dignified presence and her character contributes to one of the major turning points of the story. Rusty Schwimmer and Michelle Monaghan are adequate.
'North Country' isn't an easy film to watch because of the explicit scenes of sexual harassment and the haunting rape scene but it is a relevant film. Not only is it about women's rights, it's about everyone's right to live a life with dignity, to work with dignity. It's about standing up against injustice rather than turning a blind eye. It's about protecting your loved ones and fighting for what you believed in. Though 'North Country' isn't without its share of flaws (it is a little preachy and sometimes too dramatic), it brings forth some important themes well enough and with the support of good direction and strong performances, it's worth watching.
In the iron mines of Northern Minnesota, circa 1989, a young woman (a single mother of two with a shady-lady past) goes to work as a miner and encounters personally degrading harassment from the mostly male crew. A compassionate and sensitive rewriting of a true incident--one that took some ten years to resolve in the courts--but possibly overcrowded with too much melodramatic content. Supporting characters--like Frances McDormand's dump truck driver--do not get enough quality screen-time to completely validate the time which they do have. The over-emotional finale is also questionable (were these filmmakers ever in a courtroom before?), but it does provide the audience with the release it needs. In the lead, Charlize Theron gives a finely-wrought, gripping performance; she shows her guts, fear, and bravery, but I'm not sure how convincing she is as mother to an older teenage boy (it seems a little soon for Theron, and the same can be said for Sissy Spacek as the proverbial salt-of-the-earth grandmother). Does the film show all sides and give both the men and the women a fair shake? Probably not, but it's not a man-hater movie either, and since it's told from the female protagonist's point of view, her endurance against certain men is the focal point here. Ultimately, the movie is about her courage, her strength in standing up for herself, and this is expressed here extremely well. *** from ****
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
You won't encounter any surprises in this well-intentioned and mostly
well-acted film. The script was the problem.
The extent of the very real indignities endured by the women workers could have been established in much less time. About an hour of this film was devoted to piling one horrifying incident on another. It appeared as though no male worker was uneasy about any of this, and no supervisory personnel were at all uneasy about something they obviously knew was going on. No one had a crisis of conscience. The supervisory personnel ignored the problem because they, too, were sexist pigs, rather than because they were afraid to change anything by challenging a bureaucracy they were a part of.
In light of all of this black-and-white posturing, the last minute conversions of everyone seemed a bit unbelievable. The high school boyfriend-turned-sexual-abuser decides to become honest on the witness stand, finally becoming a person rather than an abstraction of evil. Why did he suddenly decide to do the right thing, after being a near-rapist himself? Why did he go from being a high school friend to an arch-enemy? Dad's conversion when Mom left him is similarly swift and unexplained--he showed absolutely no affection for his daughter before that. It would have been nice to know the source of his animosity, so that we could see why it was changed. And the director sabotages Dad's conversion, during his speech to the Union, by panning away from him to his daughter for her reaction, when they were standing so close a two-shot could have shown both faces.
Similarly, the teenage son--why does he automatically believe everyone except his mother? I couldn't see why--particularly because he would be in a position to know whether or not his mom is a slut--she seemed to have very little of a social life. And how does a simple conversation with the kid suddenly change everything? Personally, I found the mother-son relationship, including what caused it and how it would be resolved, to be a more interesting theme than the movie's actual theme. Laws may be passed to address sexual discrimination, but poisoned family relations cannot be remedied by legislation.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Josey Aimes, the beautiful young woman at the center of this story, has
been betrayed by almost everyone in her short life. As we meet her, she
is abandoning a situation that has turned bad in the home she shares
with an abusive man. She packs whatever she can and her two kids,
heading north to the home of her parents; she is trying to put her life
on track. Josey's father still bears a grudge against his daughter
because the unwanted pregnancy of the girl, who never revealed who was
the man responsible for a child she decided to have.
Instead of finding a nice environment when she applies, and is accepted, working at the coal mine in Northern Minnesota, Josey becomes the one where all the men loved to pick on. The miners resent the intrusion of women in what has been a male dominated work place up to 1975, when women were allowed in the mines. Her former friend, Bobby Sharp, seems to be the ring leader who makes her life a living hell. Complaining to the president of the mine, only gets Josey deeper in trouble as the chauvinist owner tells her point blank he has no time for her accusations about what's really going on.
At the same time, all the other women in the mine, who are also ridiculed by the male workers, turn against Josey. They don't want to lose jobs that pay well, and even though they are also ridiculed by the macho men, they tolerate the situation and don't want to make waves. When Josey feels she has had enough, she quits the job that she needs badly. Glory, her best friend and ally, comes down with a rare liver disease, so there is no help from her. When Josey has tried everything, she goes to Bill White, a lawyer, hoping he would be able to help her sue the mine and get her job back.
Josey and Bill have to deal with a formidable opponent, as Mr. Pearson, the owner, has a lot of money and powerful friends and lawyers to deal with problems. The judge, who is hearing the proposal tells Bill and Josey he will consider a class action suit if at least three persons come forward, something that seems almost impossible when they start the arguments. Josey and Bill persevere against all odds to prove their case which result in a monumental defeat for the mine, clearly taking Josey's position.
During the trial, the defense introduces a witness, one of Josey's high school teachers, as a character witness. This, in turn, triggers a chain of events that no one expected. Also, Bill White questions Bobby Sharp about his role in a school incident in which he didn't come to Josey's help when the girl badly needed it.
Niki Caro, whose previous film we had greatly admired, seemed to us the wrong choice for directing "North Country". We just couldn't imagine she would be able to pull it off, working in another environment and a situation that probably presented a challenge to the way she worked. In spite of all that, Ms. Caro succeeded with this movie that even though it recalls other films about female sexual harassment that came before. Ms. Caro's film is made even better by the cinematographer Chris Menges, who is one of the best men working today. The music of Gustavo Santaolalla, plus the atmospheric popular songs in the film, work well in the context. The screen play by Michael Seitzman is based on the novel that chronicled a real case that serves as the model for "North Country".
Charlize Theron appears to love to take chances. Ms. Theron, a beautiful and sophisticated woman, doesn't mind changing some of the couture clothes she wears to transform herself as this working class woman. She gives an honest performance as Josey. Frances McDormand, who plays Glory, is only seen during the first half of the film. Sean Bean, Woody Harrelson, Jeremy Renner, Linda Edmond, Thomas Curtis, Sissy Spacek and Richard Jenkins, among the large cast, are seen in supporting roles.
Judging by some of the comments submitted to IMDb, it appears there are some people who must have hated this film. Frankly, while "North Country" could have used stronger material, especially in the court proceedings, it is an engaging movie that will satisfy its audience.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Yes, this is a very gripping film - because it's basically two hours of
watching Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron) be tortured.
Everyone is against her, her friends, son, and father, as well as her enemies. Almost the entire film plays one note - her being horribly abused and unjustly accused and blamed - over and over and over again.
And that's not my idea of entertainment. If it's yours, then you'll love this film! P.S. I found her father's sudden reversal at the end completely unjustified (although certainly welcome). Ditto the other women in the plant 1) being completely against her and blaming her, and 2) then flipping just in time for the magical upbeat ending. This film has it both ways. It melodramatically exaggerates both the abuse and the miraculous happy ending.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Why is it that it hasn't occurred to anyone that this is really just a LIfetime movie with a few good names? And why can't a movie ever BE the true story instead of merely being INSPIRED by one? And why is it not a movie about female subjugation/ victimization until one get splayed out and raped by the ever-ignorant male presence? And why do we voyeuristically see this through the doubled sight of observer and film-maker? And isn't the story itself enough? And why is this getting such good reviews? The performances are in fact solid and inspired, but my sister and I both walked out when the school girl fetishism begins. Come on, people. We're smarter than this.
When divorced,single mom Josey Aimes(Charlize Theron,who's definitely
NOT afraid to get dirty or uglified for a role)begins work in the rural
Minnesota Taconite mines--where her father(Richard Jenkins)has worked a
long,secure job--even she isn't prepared for the kind of mental,verbal
and physical abuse she and her fellow women receive from the fellow
miners who(surprise!)don't cotton well to ladies working in the pits
with them. She soldiers on for a number of years before she finally has
had enough and decides--after being already ignored by management when
she complains--to quit and bring a class action suit against the
company,fully aware that she is almost alone in this pursuit,save the
somewhat reluctant help of a local lawyer and former hometown sports
I wavered on what rating to give this show for these reasons: the acting and visual direction of this film IS,I must confess,quite good. Credit practically the entire cast for the former,and director Niki Caro and cinematography of Chris Menges for the latter,but the overall tone of this movie is 1)very familiar stuff tot the point of reeking of "TV Movie" material, 2)manipulative by a mile, 3)hits on each emotional note--from the sort of "Girl POwer" quiet assertions of the film's script to the overt nastiness displayed by nearly all of the males working the mines--almost in a perfect cue; 4)the fictionalizing the stories,then mixing the time-lines from the actual case the movie and the book it was based on (namely,Jenson v. Eleveth Mines,filed in 1984,settled in 1998;whereas the film is set in 1989 and almost instantly flips to Septemeber 1991,circa the Anita Hill/Clarence THomas hearings,with the events-to-case trial time relationship murky at best);and 5)the sort of "feel good" third act denouement where the town,once boorishly stubborn against the idea of women working in the mines to being stirred by Ms.Aimes' case. An extra storyline of Aimes being raped in school and thus affecting,at least partly,her condition as being a troubled single mom who has a murky knowledge(or lack thereof)of the paternity of her equally troubled son is probably the most emotionally authentic storyline in this movie,but it feels mixed in for purely embellishment sake in this story,thus calling into question just how much this movie truly represented the true events being retold.
A famous saying says what good intentions pave the way to,but I think in this case good intentions pave the construction of a film that is underwhelming and somewhat disappointing. The story of the Eleveth mine workers and the discrimination case they eventually won absolutely deserve3s being retold,but this movie seems to be only interested in invoking it,then crafting an artificial story to frame it,as if for fear that audiences WOULDN'T get this story in the raw. On it's own,this movie's story works enough to interest most viewers,myself included, and the sincerity behind it is true I'm sure. But this film's over-familiarity and manipulation dilute the potency of the message. More entertainment than enlightenment,it's intentions are good but tough to take to heart. WAtch it for the performances,and one should feel better about it,at least marginally.
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