North Country Review

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by AVForums Apr 30, 2006 at 12:00 AM

    North Country Review
    What Josey Aimes (Theron) wants is a decent job so she can put food on the table and take care of her kids. What she gets is threatened, insulted, ogled, fondled, belittled, attacked and called filthy names. “Take it like a man” her callous male boss says. Instead, she takes it like a human being - and fights back.

    North Country is the story of the first class-action against sexual harassment in the United States and it's an interesting drama, however it does apparently take a few liberties. It's first obvious one is that is says it based on a true story rather than actually portraying the story verbatim. I would imagine the main reasons are to make it a tad more “gripping” as well as possibly the added element of Glory, played by Frances McDormand, who struggles with Lou Gehrig's Disease during the course of the movie, although I can't say for sure but it does make the huge payoff at the end tug more at the heartstrings. Which is in essence the problem with the movie - the fact that the ending hits all the typical Hollywood buttons, but we're getting ahead of ourselves here, so what works here.

    Well, it is a reasonably gripping drama - we empathise with the women here for the atrocious treatment they endure all in the name of making an honest wage. Aimes herself is abused constantly though the movie, be it her ex-husband (wife beater), her son who sides with the viewpoint she's a “whore” and constantly demeans his mother, her co-workers, both male who conduct the sexual harassment and the males who turn a blind eye, as well as her fellow female co-workers, who think she should roll with the punches and keep her mouth shut and her own father, who hasn't forgiven her for having a child while at school (this side plot also gets explained). Heck, in one scene she's singled out in public as a potential adulterer in front of hundreds of people and one can't help but feel her pain, undeserved as it is. It's also pretty well acted too, with Theron doing an amiable job in her role here, although not convinced about the Oscar nod, it is still a solid turn, McDormand is superb in my opinion, more so the emotions she portrays when she has full blown Lou Gehrig's Disease. Sean Bean and Woody Harrelson are fine also, with the exception of Bean's accent in this movie, which I understand why he had it, I just found it terribly false. However, Richard Jenkins, who plays Hank Aimes, Josey's father, is superb in his role as hateful father, very cold and convincing, but the storyline towards the end does make it seem like a false turn-a-bout with his character, but I will say that although it feels a tad quick and false, it does actually make sense in its own way. To elaborate, without spoiling it, when he sees his co-workers turn on his daughter, he changes his attitude to her completely.

    So it's well acted and it's a solid drama, so what's wrong with it? Well, there are two problems in my mind; the first is the obvious need for the big finale. Y'know the same one you see at the end of the Rocky movies etc. No, Theron doesn't don a pair of shorts and tight t-shirt and box, rather the overwhelming build up to the big payoff where the underdog triumphs over the odds, beats all the adversity that's gone on before it. The problem is that it feels so false in this regard - sure it makes a typically upbeat ending but it just feels so pretentious that Hollywood has to give it this type of ending rather than a more constrained yet positive one. In fact, at the end, you half expect people to start saying “Captain, my captain” and Robin Williams to appear. The second problem is it is actually guilty of the thing it is portraying as such, which is that if the men aren't sexist pigs, they're spineless weaklings or peripheral at best. Case in point, none of the men in the mine actually stand up in any real positive way, yet we know from the documentary in the extras that the abusive men were not the majority. Even Harrelson's character tell Josey to let it go during the movie rather than fight against the establishment, not to mention for the majority of the movie, there's not a single man that appears innocent including her father, we're supposed to believe that there's no decent men either and that in itself isn't portraying men favourably, it's actually discriminating against them. Probably another escape for the “based” on caveat the movie has.

    It's a decent drama, which mostly is let down by the ending that has to shoot off fireworks and comes across as unrealistic rather than the more subdued yet convincing ending that it required, which spoilt the movie really.

    The Rundown

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