Director Niki Caro and her crew have made North Country as though it’s cinema’s only chance to accurately and definitively depict the horrors of sexual harassment at the workplace. In a world where moviegoers are more often likely to fork out for the sight of things blowing up than the unpleasant reality of women’s past and current hardships regarding this issue, Caro goes all or nothing with her picture. The result will probably stand for some time as the most important and effective movie made on this subject. Let’s face it—other studios probably are not rushing to cover this subject.
Charlize Theron plays Josey Aimes, who takes a job at an iron mine after splitting from her husband and finding herself the sole provider to two children. Shortly after punching her first time card, Josey finds herself the victim of male leering and crass remarks. The violations toward her and other female coworkers intensify to the point where Josey quits her job and sues the mining company.
The film takes some of its story from the book Class Action: The Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler. The case depicted in the movie has a few comparisons to the book but, for the most part, it’s a fictional account of Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines. Readers of this book will find many differences between actual history and what is depicted in this film. In reality, the case against the mining company was drawn out over many years, with many different law firms and lawyers squaring off and an eventual finale not nearly as dramatic as the overdone closing moments of North Country.
Yes, the movie is history-inspired fiction, but many of the horrific acts by men against women in this film actually occurred. This is a very graphic movie, unrelenting in its depiction of cruel acts. Names have been changed, and many facets of the story have been sped up to fit within a two-hour movie, but the underlying story of a woman’s triumph over a misogynistic employer and judicial system endures.
Theron is, once again, Oscar worthy in the lead role. There are some very heavy moments in this film, and she handles every one of them with realistic choices. A scene where Josey must tell her son the truth about his father is one of the film’s many genuine moments, sensitively written and superbly acted.
Playing a sort of composite character based on the lawyers who tried the Jenson case, Woody Harrelson does his best work in years as Bill White. Frances McDormand’s character, Glory, is loosely based on real-life plaintiff Pat Kosmach, who died of Lou Gherig’s disease before the case was completed. McDormand’s character also suffers from the disease but makes a triumphant appearance in the final courtroom scene that abruptly ends the film. Strangely, the movie depicts Glory as a holdout unwilling to join the case. In truth, Kosmach always stood beside Lois Jenson (the person Theron’s character is based on) and was one of the stalwarts in a case where many women had to drop out due to fear, stress and pressure.
Dramatic license has been taken with the subject, and it has resulted in a tight, moving film that stands as a tribute to the women who took a stand. It’s sad to know that the real-life protagonist of the story received relatively small damages for the hell she was put through and suffered many physical and mental side effects the film doesn’t depict.
North Country is often an ugly, sickening movie, as well it should be. Thankfully, it will also raise awareness on its subject. For those who find the film intriguing, pick up the book for the real story. This is a very good movie, but the actual events are mind boggling.