Charlize Theron as Josey Aimes
Elle Peterson as Karen Aimes
Thomas Curtis as Sammy Aimes
Frances McDormand as Glory
Sean Bean as Kyle
Woody Harrelson as Bill White
Jeremy Renner as Bobby Sharp
Richard Jenkins as Hank Aimes
Sissy Spacek as Alice Aimes
James Cada as Don Pearson
Rusty Schwimmer as Big Betty
Linda Emond as Leslie Conlin
Michelle Monaghan as Sherry
Brad William Henke as Lattavansky
Jillian Armenante as Peg
Fed up with her lot in life, Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron) finally works up the courage to take her kids and leave her abusive husband, striking out on her own and – at the urging of her old friend Glory (Frances McDormand) – getting a job at the local iron mine, which has just been forced to start hiring women. Facing bitterness, contempt, and even outright hatred in the former men-only occupation, Josey refuses to knuckle under and ‘take it like a man’ and instead sues the mine for sexual harassment in a landmark case.
Loosely based on the true story of women miner’s who sued for sexual harassment protection in 1984, “North Country” is the unfortunately overly-dramatized Hollywood version of a story that has a chance at being truly important and even uplifting, but thanks to director Niki Caro (“Whale Rider”) and writer Michael Seitzman’s (“Here on Earth”) extreme heavy-handedness, ends up being mostly shrill instead.
Director Caro has displayed a light touch and an easy humanity before, but here she lets the melodrama get away from her, and the result is what could have been an important film is often reduced to a bad soap opera, albeit one with gorgeous cinematography from Chris Menges. Josey is continually slapped down and filled with bitterness; every person she thinks might help her ends up disappointing her. The message of her utter aloneness and inability to really count on anyone (even her own family) is hammered home again and again. But there’s nothing to balance it out. Where are the tender mercies that make even the hardest of lives worth living?
Theron does fine work as Josey, transforming her increasing bitterness into strength that refuses to bow before anyone or anything. She’s just as hard nosed as anyone in her position would be, but there is very little opportunity to see any other side of her. The odds are stacked against Josey at the cost of any sort of characterization of the supporting characters, particularly the villains who are misogynistic to the bone and nothing else. Josey’s father Hank (Richard Jenkins) is the films one try at trying to explain why the men of the mine feel like they do (besides just being men) but it doesn’t quite work. Not that the women are much better, as they all either choose to believe the stories spread about Josey, or they try to stay away from her and the large bulls-eye she is drawing on herself.
It is true that people tend to run in herds and it is the rare individual who chooses – or manages – to stand apart and change the course for everyone else; but the story could have been handled so much better. In a story about respecting humanity, there is none; only pain.
Frances McDormand is nicely feisty as Glory, but she exits the film unfortunately early. Woody Harrelson and Sean Bean are also quite good as the only two men worth anything – apparently in all of Minnesota – but like everyone else they have they have the anchor of the films extremely hokey and overwrought ending tied to their necks. It’s really Theron’s movie and she does the best that she can, but even she can’t get past all the bad melodrama “North Country” is saddled with.
What should have been uplifting is instead reduced to being unbelievably hokey. It’s a shame, because what is being talked about is important, but when it’s talked about this badly, it’s hard to care.
“North Country” is rated R for sequences involving sexual harassment including violence and dialogue, and for language.