[box cover]

North Country

"Inspired by" the the true story of the first-ever sexual harassment lawsuit elevated to class action status, North Country (2005) stars Charlize Theron as Josey Aimes, a single mother who endures grueling treatment from male coworkers and management to hold on to her job at a small-town Minnesota iron mine. Already controversial as one of a handful of women daring to claim a legally mandated berth in the high-paying, but rough, physical and male-dominated industry, Josie is further targeted as a troublemaker when she resists the onslaught of lewd, humiliating, and threatening behavior aimed at herself and her female co-workers. Stymied in her attempts to handle the harassment within the company, Josie convinces a lawyer (Woody Harrelson) to press her case, opening herself up to vicious personal attacks in the courtroom and becoming a pariah amongst her fearful colleagues, the mining-centered town, and her teenage son (Thomas Curtis). Directed by New Zealander Niki Caro (Whale Rider), North Country is so heavily fictionalized as to be nearly worthless historically, but it's an able work of issue-oriented hagiography up to its cop-out of an ending. As North Country begins, nearly every image is cast with the gloomy pallor of oppression — the barren landscape, the smog-belching factories, the lifeless hunting trophies, the disapproving glare of the pious — as Josie emerges from another in a chain of abusive relationships dating back to the high school rape that resulted in her first child. The film's blue collar world of provincial, sexual unsophistication — and Josie's brutal resistance to it — is an unmitigated feminist nightmare, and even skeptics of the legacy of sexual harassment law should sympathize with her relentless, unwarranted suffering. The screenplay by Michael Seitzman (who also penned the insipid teen Love Story knock-off Here on Earth), however, ultimately shakes loose from the strident moralizing and potent manipulation that makes it work as propaganda, and the movie descends into gooey silliness, with a disgracefully preposterous courtroom climax followed by a gutless epilogue in which Josie, having apparently resolved the court case, reconnects with her son, with no follow-up on her personal battle against sexual harassment. Did the mine's culture change? Is there work left to be done? Perhaps this ambiguity is a result of the inconclusive source material (the real lawsuit against the Mesabi Iron Works required 15 years of trial and appeals and ended with an out-of-court settlement in 1998), but couching the movie simply as the story of one women's crusade to reclaim her battered pride shifts too much weight toward its cynically engineered character dramas, muddying the film's purpose with murky indecision. Richard Jenkins provides the story's most effective moments as Josie's conflicted father. Also with Frances McDormand (as a co-worker suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease), Sean Bean, Sissy Spacek, Jeremy Renner, and Michelle Monaghan. Warner Home Video presents North Country on DVD in a good anamorphic transfer (2.40:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a few additional scenes as well as the sermonizing featurette "Stories from the North Country." Trailer, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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