North Country (2005)
(Premiere Date: September 12, 2005 [Toronto Film Festival - Canada])
(US Release Date: October 21, 2005)

A diluted and convoluted WELL ACTED Courtroom drama!

J.C. Mašek III
The World's Greatest Critic!

North Country tells a story that needed to be told about a subject that needs to be talked about that's important today as it was in the late 1980's. That said, Michael Seitzman's screenplay (based on the book Class Action: The Story of Lois Jensen and the Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy) is more than a little heavy-handed and obvious in its approach to telling this story of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace. The fact that this is a FICTIONALIZED account (there is no "Lois Jensen" in this movie) makes the whole thing all that much more of a head-scratcher. The story is presented in a blatantly shocking and startling manner that only works when a story is true. However, this one is much less Erin Brockovich than it is "The Lifetime Movie of the Week" and it pulls more trump cards from up its sleeve than it does meaningful messages.

This is the true shame, because the struggles told here are real and are practically required in the canon of "need-to-know" dramas. It's just too bad this one didn't pull the whole thing off realistically and tangibly, instead coming off as a disservice to the Sexual Harassment movement. However, the thing that saves this movie is the acting... and not just from its two Oscar Nominated actresses.

Charlize Theron plays Josey Aimes, the single mother of two who has taken the difficult step of leaving her abusive man and moving back with her parents to start over. The highest paying job within snowball's distance is the mine at which her father (Richard Jenkins) has made his living for so many years. The problem is this: the mine is a Blue-Collar Boys' Club, and the boys take none too kindly to does crashin' the stag party. This, of course, makes perfect sense, because there's nothing more inviting to a man than spending all his time with other hairy smelly disgusting men and completely shunning beautiful women in perfume all the live-long day. It makes me wonder what the dudes were doing in that mine... is this mine shaft carved into Brokeback Mountain?

Anyway, the guys find the girls threatening (it's hard out here for a wimp!) and so every form of humiliation and degradation they can muster is dumped upon the ladies like unused Journey concert tickets. Things are barely tolerable while Glory (Best Supporting Actress Nominee Frances McDormand) is on the job, as well as on the board of the Union, but when Glory falls deathly ill, and must be cared for by her husband Kyle (Sean Bean) the word "Tolerable" flies out the window and the Port-A-John hits the fan!

Naturally, Josey must take center stage in trying to get this whole problem solved. In her quest her reputation is smeared, she's called a bitch, a whore, a cunt (making this "north cuntry" I guess) and the best offer she gets from the company is the opportunity to resign without giving two weeks' notice. Thank Aphrodite, Hera, Zeus, Athena, Poseidon and even the Kraken for the return of the prodigal attorney Bill White (Woody Harrelson) who takes her case just for the halibut. Now that she's sportin' a Woody she can seek to get rid of all those tired double entendres about the job site.

Ahem. [cough, cough]

The big bust out of the nasty here is that not even the women in the Mines will join her crusade, making her look more and more like a crackpot. Sherry (Michelle Monaghan, who is HOT!) wants to, but other ladies like Rusty Schwimmer's Big Betty and Linda Emond's Leslie Conlin want Sherry to stay seated so as not to make the water any hotter for the froggies still in the pot. It's to the point that Josey's own mommy (Sissy Spacek) isn't even sure whether to believe her or not! What follows is consistently worse bullying from latently gay men and an even wider-range indictment of Josey (can one prove in a court of law that one is a "cunt"? If so... should one?).

The problems with North Country are in the overly bombastic telling of a real problem in society, one that is still going on, and possibly getting worse under the thin veneer of equality. It's hard to take this serious story all that seriously when it devolves into Pay it Forward-style sentimentality and illogical hogwash by the very layer! This is a subject, and indeed a film that deserves to be taken seriously, however, and herein lies the crime. North Country also has a continuity problem, jumping from Courtroom scenes to the real story, not in a flashback or retelling sort of way (a la The Exorcism of Emily Rose) but in a lackadaisical editing manner. 21 Grams skipped around more logically. Okay, I'm exaggerating just a tad.

There are, however, almost no flaws to be found in the acting, which says a lot for the translation of a disjointed script. Best Actress nominee Theron and Supporting Actress Nominee McDormand aren't alone here. Bean gives a subdued and decidedly un-British performance as Kyle and Harrelson does a pretty good job of a lawyer without his Larry Flynt. Monaghan is also very fine as the sweet young girl who can't stand another day in the hell of her job, but also knows there's nowhere else to go. The fine acting even works in the smaller parts like Xander Berkeley's intentionally blind foreman Arlen Pavich! Many might forget Richard Jenkins' role as Josey's dad, but it's a fine job he does, especially when his tense machismo is shattered by a daughter who needs him.

North Country could have been a showcase of a very real problem that most certainly should still be talked about. However it never quite formulates as this kind of film regardless of how hard it tries. Instead it manages to become the showcase of some very good acting from some very talented thespians, many of whom are playing against type. So, for the mixed bag that it is, North Country gets Three Stars out of Five. I would end this one in a funny way, but I think it's time we all go and reflect on a time we might have been a little less than welcoming in the work place and make our conscious choice to help stamp out Sexual Harassment on the job. Okay, the truth is, I'm funnier when I drink-and-type, but I gave up Booze for Lent again, so the comedy is OUT THE DOOR TODAY! Blackballed like a... like a... like a...


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North Country (2005) totally reviewed by J.C. Mašek III whose last name rhymes with "Spacek"!
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