North Country

on October 21, 2005 by Kevin Courrier
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In her follow-up to the popular "Whale Rider," Niki Caro turns a riveting story about a landmark legal battle against sexual harassment into a blatantly sentimental drama. "North Country," which examines one Minnesota woman's crusade against her employers at a mining company, is constructed as a conventional melodrama that draws predominantly from the playbook of Frank Capra.

Loosely based on the story of Lois Jensen, a woman who successfully sued Eveleth Mines in 1988 on sexual harassment charges, "North Country" becomes a virtuous feminist parable cut from the same cloth as "Norma Rae." Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron) is an abused wife with two children who returns home to Minnesota to live with her parents (Richard Jenkins and Sissy Spacek). Starting a new life by working in the mines, Josey inadvertently stirs up male resentment toward women taking jobs that were traditionally held by men. After she and other female employees suffer humiliating abuse at the hands of their co-workers, Josey hires a jaded lawyer (Woody Harrelson) to take on the company and sue them for sexual harassment.

Charlize Theron is essentially playing the same noble victim that she portrayed in "Monster," only this time she's not a predator. That role is taken up by the various men who are continually and viciously abusive to the women. Their attacks become so insistent that you start to wonder how any work ever got done at that mine. Although Caro is largely faithful to the source material, she seems less interested in bringing to the surface and dramatizing the economic, social and legal issues that helped feed this conflict. (Jensen's trial, for example, uncorked as much misogyny as their workplace did.) As in "Field of Dreams," which exploited the bereavement of sons estranged from their fathers, "North Country" appears more interested in squeezing moisture from the audience by capitalizing on the painful rift between fathers and daughters. "North Country" is essentially a shrewdly crafted soap opera. Starring Charlize Theron, Woody Harrelson, Francis McDormand, Sean Bean, Sissy Spacek and Richard Jenkins. Directed by Niki Caro. Written by Michael Seitzman. A Warner Bros. release. Drama. Rated R for sequences involving sexual harassment including violence and dialogue, and for language. Running time: 123 min

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