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Laramie Movie Scope:
North Country

Hits like an emotional sledgehammer

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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October 24, 2005 -- I have seen few films that pack an emotional punch equalling the ones delivered by “North Country.” Oh, I know it is a film that is rolling loaded dice in setting up its conflicts, and it is probably playing fast and loose with the facts. There are a couple of scenes that bowled me over anyway. They are not the kind of emotional scenes you expect to be affected by, a reconciliation of an estranged father and daughter and of a mother and son. This film sneaks up on you, then it hits you like an emotional sledgehammer.

Based on a true story, the film chronicles the events surrounding the first successful class action lawsuit based on sexual harassment in the United States. Charlize Theron, one of three Academy Award-winning actresses in this film, plays Josey Aimes, the woman who filed the lawsuit. The other two Oscar® winners are Sissy Spacek of “In the Bedroom,” who plays Alice Aimes, Josey's mother, and Frances McDormand of “Almost Famous” who plays Josey's friend, Glory Dodge.

Josey, and her son, Sammy (Thomas Curtis of “Red Dragon”) and daughter, Karen (Elle Peterson), leave their home when Josey's husband becomes abusive. They move in with Josey's parents, Hank Aimes (Richard Jenkins of “Shall We Dance?”) and Alice. They also stay for a time with Josey's friends, Glory and Kyle (Sean Bean of “Lord of the Rings”). Josey gets a job in the same iron mine where her father and Glory both work. The pay is better than anything she has ever earned before. She is thrilled to be able to buy her own home and provide for her children. There are problems at the mine, however. Some workers feel the women are taking work away from men who need it. They resent the women and make it difficult for them. They hurl insults at the women, defile their locker room and even attack them physically. The sexual harassment is extreme. When Josey takes her complaints to the company president, he suggests she resign.

When Josey finally does resign from the company and decides to file a class action lawsuit, she has a hard time persuading the other women at the company to join her. They, too have suffered sexual harassment, but they are afraid it will be even worse if they join the suit. Like Josey, they all need their jobs. Although Josey initiates most of the action in the film, she is not a strong woman. She is very vulnerable and easily hurt. She refuses to back down, however, and carries on the fight. Her friend Glory really is strong and she knows how to work the system to get what she wants. She is an important member of the union. Even when she becomes ill, she asks for no special favors. Josey's mother, Alice, is not in favor of what Josey is doing, but when push comes to shove, she backs her daughter.

Josey's father is a long-time union man and he is very disappointed in his daughter. He finally comes to the realization, however, that he must turn his back on his fellow workers and back his daughter. He says so in the most powerful scene in the film. Because he is a quiet man, his words carry extra weight. In his own quiet way, Richard Jenkins manages to steal the movie from his more famous fellow actors. Another good performance is turned in by Jeremy Renner of “S.W.A.T.” who plays the enigmatic character of Bobby Sharp, Josey's boss at work. Sharp is a complex character and Renner plays all the angles just right. Another good performance is given by Sean Bean, whose character is wise, quiet and thoughtful. Woody Harrelson of “After the Sunset” also has a key role in the film as Josey's attorney, Bill White. A former star hockey player, White uses his hockey savvy in a unique way during a cross examination in court.

The performances are uniformly excellent by the entire cast. The story is a bit weak, however in that it never really explains the rift between Josey, her parents and her son. It takes them a surprisingly long time to come around to her side. The dark episode from Josey's past and her parents' strange reaction to it is never fully explained either. Josey has carried a heavy burden for years, seemingly alone, when a simple word would have changed everything. Nevertheless, when these poorly-explained conflicts are resolved, it makes for some very emotionally powerful scenes.

The film captures the harsh winter landscape of northern Minnesota very well. I'm familiar with the area. I lived for nearly four years in Ironwood, Michigan, a part of the old iron mining area 100 miles east of Duluth, Minnesota. Polka music was still played in the local bars back in the 1970s and there was still a strong cultural influence from the Cornish, Italian, Finnish and other ethnic groups who had worked the mines. Every year in Ironwood they held snowmobile races, The Copper Peak Sky Flying Tournament and the Paavo Nurmi Marathon. Hockey was also huge there. The people spoke with a kind of lilting accent that sounded vaguely Canadian. I used to eat pasties (a Cornish dish) at a local cafe. It was the Tuesday special. The movie depicts the people and landscape of that part of the country very well. It was also nice to hear Bob Dylan's music on the soundtrack. Dylan, of course, grew up in northern Minnesota. His music is still connected to the north country.

In short “North Country” captures the spirit of the people and the place. It is a tough place to live and tough people live there. The people there work hard and they party hard too. There is a powerful sense of community. This all comes across in the movie. This film rates a B+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2005 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)