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North Country

Genre: Drama
Rated: R
Directed by
Released by: Warner Bros.

In Short: A worthy tale of women fighting for respect in the workplace is marred by cornball moments that stretch our credulity to the limit.

Mining for Equality
Charlize Gets Dirty for Women's Rights

By Jenny Peters

Interweaving a family drama with a sort-of fact-based story about female iron miners fighting against sexual harassment in the workplace, "North Country" is a film with its heart in the right place. The movie illuminates the experiences of a group of women who insisted on being allowed to work the same jobs as men in a Minnesota mine, a fight that eventually ended up in a landmark court case that set the standard for male behavior towards females in the workplace. Casting Best Actress Oscar winner Charlize Theron in the leading role (Josey Aimes) was a good idea, as was having fellow winners Sissy Spacek and Frances McDormand join in respectively as Josey’s mother and best friend/co-worker (Gloria).

Besides making great casting decisions, director Niki Caro, best known for her unforgettable film "Whale Rider," also offers a stark, unforgettable vision of Minnesota's wintry North Country. She deftly juxtaposes the gray landscape against the bullying behavior of the men in the mine, whose hatred for the women joining their ranks is downright brutal. It's no wonder that the women had to resort to the courts system to stop the men from making their lives a living hell.

As Josey Aimes, a battered woman who escapes her abusive spouse and brings her children back home to Northern Minnesota, Charlize Theron once again eschews glamor for an earthy role. Clad in hardhat, overalls, and usually covered in dirt and sludge from the mine, she's anything but pretty. Her performance as a mother struggling to raise her children, regain her father's respect while working in the same mine where he toils, and establish a healthy love relationship is heartfelt.

The problem with the movie is that the plot isn't believable. The cornball (not to mention blatantly manipulative) moments that pepper the last third of the movie jar the viewer out of the story. In typical Hollywood style, all of Josey's problems are amazingly solved as she triumphs over the bad guys. It's an unnecessarily neat tie-up, especially considering that the real women involved in the case (Theron's character is completely fictional) probably had compelling stories to tell, without all the Hollywood hokum.

So if excellent acting and compelling visuals are enough to make a movie worth the price of admission, "North Country" is worth seeing. But if you are looking for a total film experience, this one is bound to be disappointing in the end.

(Date published: 10/20/05)

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