"North Country" explores the first class action sexual harassment case filed in the United States, and while it has fine acting and a compelling story, two minutes on Google can show you that absolutely nothing in the movie has any resemblance to what happened in real life.
Charlize Theron stars as Josey Aimes, a single mother who has struggled through life with two children, an abusive husband and a father who, ever since she gave birth in high school, has never really approved of her. When she takes a job at the local mine to support her family, however, things take a turn for the worse. Her father has all but turned his back on her and her male coworkers treat her and the other women like crap, verbally and physically abusing them at every turn. When she complains to the company, they do nothing, and so she finally decides to sue them, setting a precedent for sexual harassment cases in the future.
Theron is terrific in the lead, though the praise she has received is a bit overstated. She is great, but I wouldn't say the role is anything breathtaking. Do you notice how after an actor wins an Academy Award everything they do is so much better than the stuff they did before winning the award? Theron has received much praise for her performance here, and while she is great I don't see an Oscar nomination in her future. Supporting cast including Frances McDormand, Sean Bean, Woody Harrelson, Richard Jenkins and Sissy Spacek are also quite good.
The movie itself is also quite well done, building up a good level of tension for the first half. Unfortunately, the story itself isn't at all that accurate and is also unfocused. I was looking for a courtroom drama and instead got a drama that ends with a 20-minute generic court battle. "North Country" tends to focus on Josey and her ordeal at the mine, while at the same time looking at the relationship with her son, who basically sees her as a whore. Sadly, the movie looks at the wrong things much of the time. The more important figures in the story are the workers and the company, while the movie looks at Josey's family and friends. The film alludes to several workers, including men, who don't like what they see but are hesitant to come forth. Unfortunately, the story never develops these characters to a point where they are anything more than bit players, while instead Sean Bean's character gets a big role even though he really is nothing more than filler.
Nonetheless, the movie works for the most part - until the last half hour, where it skimps over the real juice of the story. The courtroom stuff is about as generic and cliché as they come, and the only real legal effort put into the screenplay is a scene where Harrelson badgers a witness so much that he confesses the truth. What judge would let a lawyer go that far? How many witnesses actually break down on the witness stand? The movie never emphasizes the legal threat that the company has, nor does really wrap things up in a convincing matter.
Most annoying is the fact that the movie just isn't based on a true story. Sure, it's inspired by a true story, but when you change the name of the lead character, the company, the timeline and everything else, all you're left with is a fluff drama. In reality, Lois Jenson (Josey Aimes) joined the company in 1974 and filed a class action lawsuit in 1988; in "North Country," everything appears to take place in 1989. There's nothing more frustrated than a true story told in an extremely untrue way.
"North Country" is actually a pretty decent little film, but it tanks in the final act. While supported by a great cast, had this movie been done right and more accurate, it would have had great potential to be a frontrunner in the Oscar race. Instead, it'll make for a quality rental.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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