Tuesday, May 29, 2012

North Country

By Sati. Tuesday, May 29, 2012 , , , , , ,
93/100 (126 min, 2005)
Plot: A fictionalized account of the first major successful sexual harassment case in the United States -- Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines, where a woman who endured a range of abuse while working as a miner filed and won the landmark 1984 lawsuit.
Director: Niki Caro
Writers: Michael Seitzman (screenplay), Clara Bingham (book)
Stars: Charlize Theron, Jeremy Renner and Frances McDormand

They can't do this to us

North Country is one of the most underrated movies of last decade - there are very few movies out there that not only have a great script but also such a tremendous group of actors in them. And here all of them have purpose, great work to deliver and each and every one of them delivers their best. Although the only two actors who got Academy Award nominations for this movie are Charlize Theron and Frances McDormand almost every single actor in the film should get more recognition for their work, most notably Woody Harrelson and Richard Jenkins.

Inspired by the real events North Country follows Josey Aimes, simple but headstrong woman who is looking for a way to support herself and her kids after she leaves her abusive husband. She goes back to her hometown to live with her parents (Sissy Spacek and Richard Jenkins). Her father works in a mine, which is a main source of income for most men and some of the women in the town. Josey decides to take a job there, after the encouragement from her friend Glory (Frances McDormand).
After Josey arrives to the mine she finds out that not only the job is hard - something she would deal with because of her inner strength and determination - but also the men working there are openly hostile and abusive towards the women - something she refuses to put up with. Most of the men, including the boss, doesn't want them there claiming that the mine is not a place for women. Their actions are becoming increasingly hostile and mean with time, beginning with hiding disgusting things in their launch boxes, scaring them and ending with them openly abusing the women not only psychologically but also physically.

Josey tries to do something about the situation, but she is completely alone - most of the women just keep their mouths shuts, fearing they will lose the job they need. Her own father doesn't want her to work in the mine and he doesn't help her out. Her mother is also dismissive of the idea. Glory who worked in the mine for a long time already gained some restrained respect from men so she doesn't need to put up with all the awfulness all the other women do. She also doesn't want to lose her job, despite her desire to help out Josey.
What makes the situation far more complicated is the impact of Josey's past actions - she has two children with two different men and because of her looks women are hostile and jealous of her, spreading rumours and accusing her of being a whore in public. All of that gets dragged out in the court, once Josey decides to sue the mine with the help of a lawyer friend who takes the case because as Josey he knows what's going on in the mine is not right and because case like that was never done before.

The film has fantastic narrative when we see time Josey spends in the mine inter cut with the courtroom scenes and flashbacks to one event from her past which she kept a secret for a long time, in order to protect her kids. The scenes where we get to see the lengths Josey went to protect her children and the amount of things she had to live with alone have very powerful impact on us, because the burden she carries and the situation she is in would create incredibly difficult position to be in for any person.
North Country portrays people at their best and at their worst - those people we see here are complex - they are facing difficult choices and the actions they take require great strength and bravery - when some of the women chose not to fight we can see why they chose to endure the awful things that are being done to them. Some of the men in the mine only tease women a little, never hurting them. Some are disgusted by the actions of other workers. And some are simply cruel, stupid and monstrous men who only want to change these women's lives into a nightmare for no reason whatsoever.

One of such people is Josey's high school sweetheart Bobby Sharp played by Jeremy Renner. Bobby is a despicable coward who threatens and abuses Josey, yet finally in the end breaks down. Renner really creates great performance here as someone you hate, yet on the other hand you see that he is just a product of his poisonous environment and gigantic lack of character, living his life, escaping from responsibilities, decency and anything that requires him to make an effort in order to become a better man.
It's not all hopeless and dark, though. There is a charming subplot with Glory, who is suffering from serious illness and her supportive husband played by excellent Sean Bean in one of his greatest performances. Those two have beautiful on screen chemistry and portray a understanding, loving and supportive couple who stands together no matter what, like a rock in the sea of awfulness and senseless hatred that spreads through the town when Josey decides to fight for her dignity.

Another decent man in the story is played by Woody Harrelson as a lawyer, who returns to town and helps out Josey by taking her case. Harrelson creates lovely performance here, as a shy, kind man who turns into a lawyer with killer instinct and sharp wit in the courtroom grilling witnesses and being determined to win the case, at first for the prestige and then because he sees the lengths of cruelty the men in the mine went to and sees how incredible person Josey is.
Josey's parents are played by always wonderful Sissy Spacek and Richard Jenkins. Spacek isn't in many scenes in the film but manages to create a portrait of strong woman, who supports her husband but knows when he is in the wrong and shows it to him. Jenkins is always fantastic but his performance here is one of the most underrated I've seen - it's an outrage he didn't get more recognition for what he did in this movie. The scene where he stands up and speaks his mind in front of the workers is crushing, exhilarating and impossibly moving.

Frances McDormand creates wonderful performance as a strong woman forced to find her place in men's world and then the strength to go on as she fights with incurable disease. She also brings in a lot of humour to the movie, something she does splendidly a lot of time in her work. And then there is spellbinding Theron, one of the most impressive actresses around who creates another incredibly powerful performance as determined and courageous Josey, who made mistakes in the past but never gave up on her life and trying to make it right. Theron is many things here - concerned and loving mother, vulnerable daughter missing the love of her parents, fun loving friend, temperamental young woman and hurt employee searching for justice. But she is always Josey - fierce, determined and brave.
Theron's work is so impressive here I cant believe she didn't win her second Oscar for this. She portrays every single possible emotion - fear, shame, determination, sadness and in the end overwhelming happiness which beams from her face so much you can't hold back tears looking at her. What I liked about her character is that she is just an ordinary person, with many flaws, but somehow finds so much strength and courage within to fight and do the right thing, not just for her, but for others too.

There are certain scenes in the movie that have so much brutality, senseless cruelty and gross behaviour towards women I was feeling as if I was watching Lars Von Trier's movie. There is also a flashback scenes which is incredibly disturbing that features Amber Heard in the role of young Josey. When it comes to the events in the mine the worst thing is that in real life what was done to the women was even worse than what we see in the movie - all of the events we see here actually happened and not just once. This went on for years and nobody did anything about it.
There are other scenes that show the psychological abuse towards the women, not just from workers but from the management. I don't know which was worse - the things these women faced physically and the disgusting and humiliating things that were done to them or the day by day feeling nobody will help them and nobody will be brought to justice although they are so obviously crossing the line of the law, decency and basic humanity.

The film shows one of these situations in life where you know what should be done, but you can't without risking losing everything. The final scene in the courtroom will be called cliched and cheesy by some, no doubt. But for me it was one of the best scenes I've seen - not just because of Theron's sublime acting and the look on Harrelson's face, but also because of the impact of it and the solidarity that we finally see after two hours of watching this woman stand alone against the blatant cruelty and injustice, that frankly made me sick to my stomach.
The cinematography and the music by Gustavo Santaolalla perfectly capture the icy and harsh surroundings that reflect both the helplessness of the situation the characters are in as well the nature of their dangerous work. The close ups of Josey's face help us appreciate Theron's acting as we see every single emotion going through Josey's heart reflected in her face. The editing which shows us the events along with the reactions to them in the courtroom only increase the impact of what we are seeing.

North Country is a brilliant story which confronts the worst and the the best in people - the cruelty they are capable of and the bravery which they use to defend themselves. I saw a lot of movies lately dealing with real life inspired court cases and more often than not I was shocked by the ridiculous and horrifying verdicts. But North Country was exception for that - this is the film, based on real life, which shows the true triumph of dignity and courage and leaves you with hope that there are still people out there willing to fight, no matter what.

16 comments:

  1. I do think it's a good film though I did have issues with it. Notably that last courtroom scene where I felt some of the parts about it was cliched. I wish it was handled in a different way.

    I do love Charlize's performance in that film. It's just an indication that she's more than just a pretty face. My favorite moment is when Richard Jenkins' character is in that courtroom and completely loses it. It was as if all of that anger he had stored in him about his daughter had been mis-directed for so many years.

    Where is Niki Caro by the way and why is she not working right now? Dammit, are we doing to have to wait a few more years like we had to do for Lynne Ramsay?

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    1. That was a fantastic moment, also later on when they are sitting in the kitchen and he gets up to hug her and confront her. Theron and Jenkins really made it seem as if they were father and daughter.

      I don't know what's up with female directors taking such a big breaks...but more often than not it's worth the wait.

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  2. I love this movie. I am one of the few people in NZ who thinks that this film is better than Niki Caro's Whale Rider. Charlize Theron is wonderful, as is Jeremy Renner (how I hated him). Frances McDormand is also wonderful! It is so underrated, it's criminal.

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    1. For me it's definetly better than Whale Rider. I can't believe the movie didn't get more nominations and awards, it's such an insanely touching and powerful movie.

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  3. Sounds good! This makes me consider making June a Charlize Theron viewing month.

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    1. I did that in May :) She starred in some really great movies.

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  4. Excellent review. With this cast I need to see this immediately.

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    1. It's really worth seeing, all the actors get a chance to shine.

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  5. Great movie about an appalling subject. With this an Monster, Charlize became my favourite actress. And that speech by Jenkins was absolutely brilliant and unforgettable. Didn't know Renner when I saw this so interesting to hear he's in it.

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    1. I didn't know who he was too back when I saw this film, he really gave a great performance here no wonder he is becoming such a huge star now.

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  6. I really did not like this film. The performances by everybody involved here were good, but the subject material wasn't handled the best way I thought it could have. It tried to go for that inspirational route, but instead, ended up just being a bit tacky with Richard Jenkins coming up out of nowhere and taking this film in his own hands. However, it wasn't enough for me to get over everything else. Good review Sati. Sorry I could not share your same appreciation.

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    1. Thanks! I noticed that people either really like or dislike this one.

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  7. this is on my list of must see films! looks incredible!

    http://musicfilmsect.blogspot.com/

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    1. It's really great, you should check it out!

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  8. I really respect Charlize for taking non-glamorous roles like this. I haven't seen this one but I really should, especially since it's filmed partly in my home state.

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    1. Then you really need to see this! there is actually a bit of curious beauty in the way the movie is filmed, it all looks so harsh and cold, but quite fascinating. Charlize really makes great choices in her career.

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