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North Country (2005)

DVD Cover (Warner Brother)
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Overall Rating 73%
Overall Rating
Ranked #1,621
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A fictionalized account of the first major successful sexual harassment case in the United States -- Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines, where a woman who endured a range of abuse while working as a miner filed and won the landmark 1984 lawsuit. --TMDb
Charlize Theron
Charlize Theron
Thomas Curtis
Thomas Curtis
Elle Peterson
Elle Peterson
Frances McDormand
Frances McDormand
Sean Bean
Sean Bean
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Review by bluemeanie
Added: October 25, 2005
There was just something about "Whale Rider" that I didn't like. I know that 90% of critics nationwide thought it was absolutely astonishing, but I couldn't get into it. I thought the film was highly overrated and not entertaining enough to satiate my movie-going needs. Niki Caro was the director of that film, and I never denied her talent. As much as I disliked the film, I could always tell that she was a gifted filmmaker and a wonderful storyteller, above all else. "North Country" is her follow up to "Whale Rider", and it has Oscar written all over it, from the seven phenomenal performances to the lofty and emotional subject matter. Critics have found themselves more divided over this film, with half hailing it as one of the year's best, and the other half comparing it to a weepy Lifetime movie-of-the-week melodrama. "North Country" comes off like "Norma Rae" meets "October Sky", and it does possess a lot of those elements that make a good television melodrama, but it also possesses something those films do not have - power. You can credit the actors for providing this, or maybe just the story and script itself, but "North Country" is one of those films that tugs at your heartstrings. It gives you genuine characters to care about, puts those characters in situations that make you despise other characters, and then wraps everything up in a nice neat little package at the end. "North Country" is a film where you expect the audience to cheer.

The focal point of the film is Josey Aimes, and we follow Josey throughout most of her life, from her times spent in the halls of her high school to the day when she decides to pack her kids up and leave her violent and abusive husband. She goes back home to Northern Minnesota. The time is 1989 and her father thinks she and her husband should work it out, going so far as to ask her if his hitting her was a result of him catching her in bed with another man. Her mother Alice (Sissy Spacek) is a homemaker and does, basically, whatever her husband wants. Not long after she is back in town, Josey reconnects with Glory (Frances MacDormand), an old friend who persuades Josey to come with her and work in the local Pierson Coal Mine. Her father disapproves, as does most of the town and the workers at the mine. They all think women don't belong there. As soon as she starts working, things at home get better. She buys her own home, gets her kids everything they could possibly want, and starts having fun, for the first time in her life. At the mine, however, things are a different story. The men are constantly harassing the women, writing obscene language on their shower room walls in excrement, and even forcing themselves on them. One day, Josey has enough and decides to take the mine to court and demand a sexual harassment policy. She enlists the assistance of former hockey star and former attorney Bill White (Woody Harrelson). The only problem is that none of the other women want to join Josey in her lawsuit, afraid of what they will face if they lose the case. There are other, supporting, characters too numerous to mention yet.

This is a film told in three parts. The first part deals with Josey's life before she starts working at the mine. We see her leave her abusive husband and the reaction of her parents to her return to town. Her father Hank (Richard Jenkins) is the most complex character, seeming to love his family intensely, but always afraid of what other people are going to think. He is old fashioned like all the other men, but we know he would never hit his wife or his daughter. The second part of the film deals with Josey's life while working at the mine. We see the positive affects it has on her life at home, and we see the negative affects it has on her life, while at the mine. We watch the men at the mine commit terrible and unspeakable acts against the women, with the management and executives turning away and pretending it just isn't happening. We go through a string of emotions, representing the same highs and lows through which Josey is going. The third part deals with Josey after she quits working at the mine and decides to sue the mine. We see her relationship grow with Bill White, how badly her seeking this justice affects her family and friends, and how the entire community has grown to consider her a 'whore' and a 'shame'. But, as with most films dealing in this subject matter, we finally receive the resolution we have been craving, and it feels good.

As mentioned earlier, this film features seven Oscar worthy performances. Charlize Theron continues to improve her stock by taking roles that mask her beauty and force you to just watch her raw talent. As Josey, she is nothing short of heartbreaking as she goes through every possible emotion. This is almost as strong as her performance in "Monster". Back in acting full-time again, Woody Harrelson is a strong supporting player here as the attorney and friend, Bill White. Harrelson is all about being subtle and silent, and he works this to perfection. As Josey's parents, Sissy Spacek and Richard Jenkins anchor this film with their talent, especially Richard Jenkins, who gives the best performance in the film and one of the best performances of his career. Frances MacDormand, as Glory, does what she does best - she steals the film. She has her "Fargo" accent toned down a notch, but she provided the comic relief and the emotional gravity of the third act. Jeremy Renner makes the perfect villain here, as Josey's nemesis Bobby Sharp, and Sean Bean is surprisingly affective as Glory's husband Kyle, in such a minor role, that still demands attention. If I were the Academy, the performances I would most likely recognize would be Charlize Theron, Richard Jenkins, and Frances MacDormand, whom the Academy loves anyways. Those are the three performances that stand out amongst all the others. Jenkins has an especially powerful scene in the town hall where he finally stands up and defends his daughter - it is the speech Oscars are made of and it should take him all the way to his first nomination. Charlize Theron has the scene on the back deck with her son that should snag her a nomination, and Frances MacDormand's third act descent into the terrors of Lou Gehrig's Disease should easily grant her one more year down the red carpet. Fingers crossed.

Now, for the final verdict. "North Country" will very likely be attending the Academy Awards in full force, but that could be nullified, depending on how many of the forthcoming 'great films' actually live up to their expectations. Any normal year, "North Country" would almost certainly be guaranteed a Best Picture nomination. Not this year. But, even with so many outstanding performances this year, "North Country" should rack up at least two nominations. I found this film to be heartwarming, heartbreaking, and a truly visceral experience. "North Country" lives and breathes through the performances and the subject matter and neither let you down. This is not the best film of the year, but it was one of the best, and that is all that should matter if you are deciding between it and something like "The Fog". Always go for the film that is going to enrich your heart and your soul, rather than your eyes and ears. "North Country" does just that. And, in one final push on my part, I strongly recommend Richard Jenkins for Best Supporting Actors and suggest that the Academy look at how many times this amazing actor has been overlooked for his great work.

9.5/10.
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