It’s that time of year again when the curse of the Oscarbait begins. All the earnest biopics, war films, family dramas and period tales roll intotown, hoping to attract the attention of the Academy. North Country appearsto have it all wrapped up. It’s the true story of the first ever classaction sexual harassment trial, is directed by Niki Caro, acclaimed helmer ofWhale Rider, and stars three Oscar winners. Can’t go wrong, right?
Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron) is in need of a new start. After she leavesher abusive husband she travels to the small town where her parents live.Struggling with the low pay she receives as a hairdresser she soon finds shecan make three times more in the mines. From the outset Josey findsshe is anything but welcome in an environment where the men outnumberthe women 30 to one, Josey finds herself the target of an endless streamof sexual harassment, from offensive comments to an escalating sense ofdanger. Josey eventually decides that she has to stand up for her rights.
North Country, at once seen as a serious Oscar contender, has been relegatedby most critics to an almost-was. Its themes are prescient and involvingbut it’s a little blunt and unsubtle to really strike a chord with massaudiences. The film makers pile on the pity for Josey until it’s hard to seeher as anything else than a character in a movie – not a real person. Thankgod then, that Charlize Theron was chosen to play her.
Following up her Oscar winning work in Monster, Theron has matured into afine actress with this equally accomplished performance. Radiating a quietrespect and a valid sense of indignity, she commands your attention and alsoyour emotions. The film may not be a big awards winner but Theron will be adead cert for a Best Actress nomination.
She’s also ably supported by afantastic cast. Frances McDormand is reliably good even if her character arcseems a little contrite, while Sissy Spacek is good if a little underwritten.Woody Harrelson is strong and watching him makes you wish he got moreserious roles. The supporting standout is Richard Jenkins, best known as thelate father in Six Feet Under, who plays Theron’s father. Initiallyunsupportive, the moment where he finally realises what she is puttingup with is one of the most powerful scenes of the year.
Although North Country may be flawed, there is still an unmistakable power to the filmand it’s hard not to get angry along with Theron as the odds pile up againsther. The fact that Josey is a simple, dignified woman without any ErinBrockovich bravado, makes it all the more powerful.
It does however bearanother of those dreaded “true story” tags which, as the ending coda tells you,renders most of the film a lie – since Josey is a fictional character.Yet, as unsubtle as it may be, thanks to Theron’s incredible performance, NorthCountry still packs a punch.