Directed by Niki Caro, starring Charlize Theron, Richard Jenkins, Sissy Spacek, Sean Bean, Woody Harrelson, Jeremy Renner, Frances McDormand, Michelle Monaghan, Linda Emond, Rusty Schwimmer, James Cada, Elle Peterson and Thomas Curtis.
'Whale Rider' director Niki Caro tackles another female oppression story, moving from the tribes of her native New Zealand to the mineshafts of North America.
Inspired by true events of the case of Jenson V Eveleth Mines, which set a precedent for sexual discrimination class actions in the US, the fictional story of female iron miner Josey Aimes (Theron) is successfully brought to the big screen as we travel back to 1984, and to the mine shafts of cold Minnesota. Josey is struggling to bring up her two children, teenager Sammy (Curtis) and young Karen (Peterson), trapped in a loveless and abusive marriage. When she finally makes the break from her husband, she naively imagines that her life will suddenly be easier. But returning to her shamed parents (Spacek and Jenkins) and small-town politics was never going to be a cake-walk.
Work isn't plentiful, nor do any of the jobs she takes pay well, but Josey is prepared to do anything to make ends meet for her children. So, when the mines grudgingly start taking on women, Josey doesn't seem bothered by the fact that it is a male dominated area of work. She's not afraid to get her hands dirty and has suffered much worse physical torture on a daily basis. So, against her father Hank's wishes, and with more than a little encouragement from her union representative friend Glory (McDormand), she enrols on the workforce.
From here on in we are given a taste of the level of sexual discrimination that was often commonplace in such work environments. At first it's muttered comments, then it's inappropriate contact and finally it's physical intimidation and abuse. But when she decides that enough is enough, Josey stands alone. Her own family don't want to hear her claims. After all, they told her so. Her female colleagues would do anything bar rock the boat any further - for fear it would capsize completely - and her friend Glory adopts the 'quiet-life' policy, choosing to get on with it, instead of challenging the way things are. Her only hope seems to lie with former ice hockey star and now lawyer Bill White (Harrelson).
As Josey's story is being told, a court case is in session, with her tale playing out for us by means of flashback sequences (as she recounts the events of the last few years of her life in the courtroom). It is this break, alternating between the depressing world of the mines and the charged atmosphere of the courtroom, that offers some sense of respite for the viewer during the proceedings - ensuring that the stories that the protagonist is telling so graphically, while repetitive, don't feel overly dragged out.
But there's also no getting away from the fact that there are an abundance of character clichés on offer throughout - the former superstar tending towards alcoholism until he feels useful to someone, the father who can't admit his true feelings until his wife tells him to, the ostracised child who turns against his wronged mother and the small-town bully just waiting to be exposed for what he is. However, this detracts little from the overall impact of the movie, with the Academy Award-nominated Theron delivering a punchy performance in the central role.
As with her captivating portrayal in 'Monster', Theron once again manages to ugly it up in a very convincing manner - transforming from the stunning to the ordinary. It is her amazing versatility, and ability to look so physically different in each part that she tackles, that really make Theron such an impressive actress, seemingly incapable of turning in a bad performance these days.
She is supported here by a fantastic ensemble cast, which includes Woody Harrelson (her lawyer), Sean Bean (her friend Glory's devoted husband), Jeremy Renner (bullying ringleader Bobby), Richard Jenkins, Sissy Spacek and the Oscar-nominated Frances McDormand, who captures the fighting spirit of someone tired-of-life brilliantly.
'North Country' is an intelligently presented account of bravery, humanity and the consequences of the lack of both, that boasts superb acting, in the telling of a worthy story.