Charlize Theron in North Country (2005)


(director: Niki Caro; screenwriters: Michael Seitzman/ the book “Class Action: The Story of Lois Jensen and the Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law” by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy; cinematographer: Chris Menges; editor: David Coulson; music: Gustavo Santaolalla; cast: Charlize Theron (Josey Aimes), Frances McDormand (Glory), Sean Bean (Kyle), Richard Jenkins (Hank), Jeremy Renner (Bobby), Michelle Monaghan (Sherry), Woody Harrelson (Bill White), Sissy Spacek (Alice), Linda Emond (Leslie Conlin), John Aylward (Judge Halsted), Brad William Henke (Lattavansky), Xander Berkeley (Arlen Pavich), Corey Stoll (Ricky); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating:R; producer: Nick Wechsler; Warner Brothers Pictures; 2005)
“Theron’s acting goes beyond cosmetics as she once again gets into the head of the unchaste heroine she portrays and gives a winning performance.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Niki Caro (“Whale Rider”) directs this old-fashioned liberal orientated staightforward risk-free fictionalized true story about sexual harassment at a Minnesota iron mine in 1989. It was the first class-action sexual-harassment suit ever and the victors at the northern Minnesota iron mine in 1975 were 14 women and the instigator of the suit Lois Jensen, who won a multimillion-dollar settlement in 1998 from Eveleth Mines. But the victory was not until going through a long and grueling court fight that changed the way firms throughout the country could treat women. It’s 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, and is written by Michael Seitzman.

Charlize Theron stars as the personally and institutionalized abused heroine Josey Aimes. The South African-born 30-year-old beauty plays another non-glam role following her success playing a serial killer in the 2003 “Monster.” Theron’s acting goes beyond cosmetics as she once again gets into the head of the unchaste heroine she portrays and gives a winning performance. Though the film itself is troubled by having such a glum story that even in victory a happy face can’t be put on it, but it’s a story about a recent injustice that should be more widely known (it’s so outlandish in its indictment of the Neanderthal behavior of the mining men that it seems it happened long ago, in a less enlightened time). Set in a dreary wintry northern Minnesota hamlet, the film remains realistically stark and harsh. The women are victims of beastly treatment and their fight is not only for all women but for all men, but the victims have been so beaten down they herd together in fear and try to ignore how they are slighted–crying out that don’t want to make waves and chance losing this big paycheck.

The film is framed around the court class action sexual-harassment suit filed against Pearson’s mines by Josey, a worker who was forced to quit because of ill-treatment and the company’s do nothing policy to protect her. Physically abused by her husband, Josey ditches him and takes her two kids from different fathers to live with her folks Hank and Alice (Richard Jenkins and Sissy Spacek). Hardly eking out a living working in a hair salon, Josey runs into an old friend Glory (Frances McDormand), who tells her she makes plenty of dough driving a truck at the mine, where she’s a union rep, and that there’s openings there (evidently because of a Supreme Court ruling to hire women). Her unapproving father works there. At the job she’s faced with daily abuse that includes the women’s locker smeared with obscene graffiti, dirty pictures and comments about the women scrawled on the walls throughout the workplace, men grabbing them without any repercussions, daily intimidation, a dildo placed in a woman’s lunchbox, lewd banter, and the last straw for Josey was being choked and threatened by her bully supervisor (who happens to be her former high school boyfriend) and her complaint being ignored.

Why the single mom stays becomes evident in an early scene in a diner, where Josey takes her hockey playing teenage son and young daughter to eat in the style that they are not accustomed to as she just cashed her biggest paycheck ever. Mom feels really good about the treat and when the owner of Pearson’s Taconite and Steel facility, Don Pearson (James Cada), introduces himself and tells her “I remember your face” and speaks in a friendly manner further telling her to call upon him if there are any problems–this makes mom overwhelmed with pride in front of her kids.

Warning: spoiler in next paragraph

The sexual harassment story leads to a Hollywood-like court trial where local lawyer, Bill White (Woody Harrelson), returning home after a New York stint, argues her case against the mine’s hardball woman lawyer Leslie Conlin. One of the many men vilified as pigs is Bobby (Jeremy Renner), her chief tormentor, whose false testimony about Josey having an affair with her high school teacher is broken down in a Perry Mason moment at the trial as actually a rape and leads eventually to the court success for the women. The film broke down at this point, as the melodramatic courtroom dramatics and the cheesy lawyer tactics sabotaged the creditability of the film.

The film’s most powerful scene has Josey addressing a union meeting and being harassed by the almost all men membership, but is surprised when her father comes to the podium and at last offers his support and somewhat calms down the hostile crowd. Though done in a typical Hollywood way, the viewer can still feel the fright of appearing before such a vile testosterone driven raving lunatic crowd.

The film gives voice to all that women have to go through in the workplace, especially when they work in a place that tradition dictates they shouldn’t, which is enough of a reason for liking a film that was so well-intentioned, so on the money for pointing out all the injustices and so convincingly portrays the heroine’s bitter-sweet relationship with the men in her life that she wanted to be loved by, such as her father, high school boyfriend, husband and son, only to find they all resent her.