North Country

Release Date: February 21, 2006

Based on a true story, North Country, focuses on sexual harassment in the workplace before there were laws protecting employees against misconduct. The film directed by Niki Caro (Whale Rider) unfortunately was released earlier in the year before the typical year-end Oscar release period and made just a quiet splash among viewers when it came out. But the film is once again receiving its share of well deserved attention now that its actresses are being nominated for leading and supporting Oscar nominations.

The Film
For those who might not know where exactly the title of this film is referencing, North Country is a remote area of Minnesota, where its residents depend upon industrial labor like mining. During the early 80s, despite equal rights, mining was considered men’s work and the women at the mine trying to support their families, endured relentless harassment not only for being a woman but for taking the jobs that the town felt men could be having. The tension and constant harrowing harassment at Pearson’s mine led to Josey Aimes filing the first ever class action sexual harassment lawsuit in American history.

Charlize Theron plays Josey, a young divorced mother with two children and the victim of marital abuse. After a particular attack she takes her kids and returns home to North Country, temporarily staying with her estranged mother (Sissy Spacek) and mining father (Richard Jenkins). Both of which have their own prejudices towards their daughter but later stand by her side despite town pressure. Wanting to support her children without living at home, it is suggested by Josey’s friend Glory (Frances McDormand) that she work up in the mine with her and Josey’s dad in order to be able to earn male wages. After some reluctance she agrees to work at the mine and is at first delighted to see that she can now afford to own her own home. However, she soon finds it might not be worth the price though when she is continually taunted and abused every day while going to work. Her male coworkers spread feces in their locker room, put dildos in their lunchboxes, touch their bodies and write lewd cartoons on the walls, just to name a few of their actions. Woody Harrelson also stars as the lawyer taking on this case.

Besides Charlize’s Best Actress nominated delivery in the leading role, the supporting cast in this film is amazingly strong. Frances McDormand is being nominated for her performance after all and you have Spacek, Harrelson, Jenkins and fellow female miner played by Michelle Monaghan (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) all delivering great character acting performances.

The Extras
North Country’s features like the region itself are sparse. I was surprised to not see a commentary by the director or cast. However, what I was really excited to see was the featurette on the making of the film which includes brief interviews and insight from the real women at the mine, allowing audiences to put real faces to the characters from the film. The features also include nine additional scenes and a trailer for the film. Playing at the beginning of the disc is previews for Must Love Dogs and Mother in Law, not sure the connection though.

The Delivery
The DVD is presented in 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen format, which captures the film’s isolating landscape shots very nicely within the frame. The sound is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. The DVD is mainly dialogue-driven, with classical music and nature sounds playing sharply in the background. The DVD also includes a French language track and subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.

The Final Cut
I’m surprised this film was not nominated for Best Picture actually, because not only is it well acted but also well presented, powerful and an overall great film from 2005 and surely will resonate in the future. North Country showcases the struggle for sexual harassment laws as the film Norma Rae did for the struggle for union representation. And despite a few tears, I did not walk away from this film feeling depressed but empowered.

The Upside:
It’s this decade’s Norma Rae flick, reminding viewers just how far the battle of the sexes has come with great acting and a slice of our history.
The Downside:
At times the film can be formulaic, frustrating and a bit melodramatic, like the true story itself.
On the Side:
The lawsuit which inspired this film was settled in 1998, 10 years after it was first filed and over 20 years after the harassments began.

Making the Grade:
The Film: A
The Delivery: B+
The Extras: B-
Overall: A-

Click here to buy the DVD from Amazon.

Tags: Entertainment, Reviews, Movie, Oscar, Oscar Nominee, Sexual Harassment, Class Action