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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.