Has the Oscar Race finally begun? I think so, finally movie comes along that spells contender, and why wouldn’t it; three Best Actress winners star in it (Theron, Spacek, McDormand) and Niki Caro, the acclaimed director of Whale Rider is at the helm, telling a story of despair and dismay as the right to earn a peaceful living in a world of seemingly insurmountable obstacles is the matter at hand in North Country.
Charlize Theron seems content to have taken a year off from the Oscar race, but this year her eyes are once again back on the prize as she turns in another role to remember as Josey Aimes, a woman whose life is on edge. She has just left her abusive husband and is heading back home to Minnesota where she suddenly finds herself working side by side with the men of the town in the iron mines.
As you can surely estimate this is not the most welcoming environment for a female and the emotional turns Josey’s character takes test Theron’s ability at every turn and she passes with flying colors, reminding us of the greatness she showcased in Monster. Along with Theron, Frances McDormand as the sassy Glory and newcomer Michelle Monaghan are each forced to endure their own individual pains and they both bring the emotional level of the movie to much higher ground.
On the other side of the chromosome spectrum, the men prove women aren’t the only ones that jave chops as Woody Harrelson, Richard Jenkins and Sean Bean all turn in fantastic performances in limited roles. Bean, in particular, has a very small role as Glory’s husband, but I believe this is his best performance to date. He has not been offered any really significant roles since Lord of the Rings, none at least that have shown off his true ability, but with this role he proves that serious drama is well within his scope.
All this talk about acting is only half the story however as Niki Caro is the one guiding the camera, and she has done with her actors in this movie what she did for Keisha Castle Hughes in Whale Rider – she allows the characters to tell the story. Caro understands this is a movie that just won’t work unless you connect with the people on screen and she gives her actors just the right amount of time to do such. Granted there are some occasions where she could have moved the story along a bit quicker, which leads me to my only critique.
North Country runs just over two hours long, which is modest for an emotional drama, but the first quarter of this film could have been edited down a bit for pacing reasons. An impatient audience may grow weary in the opening 30 minutes of this film as the plot is laid out; I can only hope they will sit still long enough for the real story to unfold.
North Country is not the happiest of films for weekend movie watching, it’s a drama, a real drama and it will take audiences on a roller-coaster of emotions. For those of you that are tired of all the flash in the pan, crap films dominating the big screens right now this is your option, and it’s a good one. Good acting, good direction and good story all add up to one great movie.