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.
1989. Josey Aimes takes her two kids, Sammy and Karen, and leaves her abusive husband Wayne, to return to her northern Minnesota home town. On a chance meeting with her old friend Glory Dodge who works as a driver and union rep at the mine operated by Pearson Taconite and Steel, Josey decides to work at the mine as well, work that is dominated by men in number and in tone. She does so to be able to stand on her own two feet for the first time in her life, something she probably could not have done if she remained in a job washing hair at a beauty salon. Working at the mine does not sit well with her father, Hank Aimes, who also works at the mine and who, like the other male workers, believes she is taking a job away from a man. Hank has believed that all Josey's problems are of her own doing, ever since she, unmarried, had Sammy while she was still in high school. Josey has always stated that she does not know who Sammy's biological father is, which fosters Hank's attitude about her. ...Written by
Some of the women standing up in the last courtroom scene were real plaintiffs. See more »
The Minneapolis skyline includes a few buildings that didn't exist in 1988-89. See more »
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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The Warner Bros. logo plays but with no music. See more »
The feel-good feminism of Niki Caro's *Whale Rider* from a couple years back becomes a passionate tirade in her new film, *North Country*, based on the landmark sexual harassment case involving miners in the northern Minnesota iron mines. The class action suit was apparently brought in the late Eighties, and finally wrapped up in 1998 -- which may explain why Caro and her screenwriter Michael Seitzman decided that it might be a good idea to simply fictionalize the whole affair. Can't make a movie about briefs being submitted to a court over a period of a decade, I guess. Despite the fictionalization, the movie serves as a timely crash course on how recent the legality of women's safety in the workplace actually is: the characters in the film watch clips from the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings. Sissy Spacek snaps the TV off in horror after Ms. Hill describes Thomas talking about his own penis. These hearings occurred, I believe, in 1991. So, kids, the federal laws on sexual harassment don't date back to the era of black & white TV: "back in the day" was, like, 15 minutes ago. Advances in civilization are always more recent than we think. I can certainly remember the effect of the mining case on my own workplace, even though I'd never heard of it: by the mid-Nineties, we were marched off to sexual harassment sensitivity trainings and were barraged with xeroxes on the subject, to be appended to our Policy Manual. What had seemed like simple common decency had apparently never before been buttressed by the law.
Perhaps because these wounds are still raw, Caro, in depicting this material, goes for the Hollywood Prestige Picture approach, much like Jonathan Demme did in his approach to AIDS with *Philadelphia* back in '93. The signposts are huge and easy to read; the heroes are virtuous sufferers; the villains are pasteboard meanies; the issues are never ambiguous. In other words, *North Country* is simple entertainment, and it succeeds quite well on that level. Even so, I do think that Caro trowels on the villainy rather thickly. We expect to see macho jerks in an iron mine, but the guys in this film are heathen savages, looking and behaving like a San Berdoo motorcycle gang in the grips of a three-day booze-and-meth binge. They literally play in excrement (smearing obscenities on the women's bathroom wall with it) and, in what is probably the first depiction of semen in a mainstream Hollywood film, spray themselves in the women's lockers. Meanwhile, the grab-ass games, adolescent potty-mouth insults, and violent threats are unrelenting from punch-in to punch-out. They don't even let the girls take a pee break, for goodness sake. During all this, we don't really get a sense of Charlize Theron's day-to-day work duties at the mine. Apparently, it's just one terrifying pile-on after another.
Maybe this is just as well for Theron the actress, who admittedly excels in extreme situations. A big, bold actress, dangerously beautiful, she attacks the Powerful Moments with great confidence, leaving all that subtlety stuff to the rest of the top-notch cast, which includes the likes of Spacek as her mother, Richard Jenkins as her father, Frances McDormand as her union rep pal (with a toned-down *Fargo* accent), Sean Bean as McDormand's injured husband, an atypically credible Woody Harrelson as the lawyer who takes on Theron's case, and Linda Emond as the mine's attack-dog defense lawyer. Also, take note of Michelle Monaghan as Theron's co-worker Sherry: a Rising Star, if I may prophesy. *North Country* is ultimately made watchable by these great actors, even if their parts are diagrammatic in the extreme. The obvious case here is Jenkins as Theron's dad: for most of the film he's forced to be an unfeeling, heartless character, who stews in shame about his daughter and doesn't support her when she's suffering at the mine; conveniently, he does an about-face at the union meeting hall, bringing down the house with a great speech that castigates the greasy-haired apes in attendance ("I don't have a friend in this room!"). Jenkins' tone-perfect line reading makes it easy for us to swallow what is otherwise a prime example of Hollywood malarkey of the first order. Say much the same for the rest of the cast's work in relationship to the movie as a whole. *North Country* is ultimately justified by the actors.
4 stars out of 10. Nice Dylan tunes on the soundtrack, incidentally -- though a movie called *North Country* surely required the immortal "Nashville Skyline" version of "Girl from the North Country", in which Johnny Cash duets with Dylan. Such an inclusion would've lifted my rating up to 5.
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