North Country (2005) Directed by Niki Caro. With Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, Jeremy Renner, Woody Harrelson, Richard Jenkins, Sissy Spasek and Sean Bean.
Adapted from book to screenplay by Michael Sietzman and overseen by Whale Rider director Niki Caro, North Country is the harrowing story of Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron) and her steadfast courage to stand up against the abuses and discrimination put upon her and female co-workers during her time as a mine worker in late 1980’s Minnesota.
With a host of acting nominations, including academy recognition, the film is lit up by a string of fine performances. As Josey, Theron is veracious in her portrayal of a woman made to fight her every corner. It’s tough to watch a decent person made to suffer at the hands of such ignorance and hostility, and Theron’s powerful turn has us gripped and rooting for her character. Backing Theron up is Frances McDormand, an actress capable of disappearing into any role she takes. Here is no different.
In lesser hands, North Country could have easily been a cynical piece of feminist propaganda, but Niki Caro is clever enough not to fall into stereotyping and has a collection of sympathetic male characters (Bean, Harrelson) to balance out the bigots, rapists and wife-beaters that circle Josey’s world. Both Sean Bean and Woody Harreslon bring welcome warmth to the bleak mining town backdrop, while an appropriate soundtrack of working class songs from the likes of Bob Dylan resonate profoundly around the drama.
From the start and throughout, the film leaps back and forth between events before and leading up to a climatic courtroom showdown that does wander briefly into the grandstanding territory of A Few Good Men, but given the strength of the gutsy drama that has preceded it, is easily forgiveable. What stays with you long beyond the credits is the sheer conviction with which Charlize Theron inhabits her role. Her diamond in the rough performance alone makes North Country an absolute must-see. 4.5/5