North Country

North Country (2005)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, Sean Bean, Woody Harrelson
Extras: Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailer

When I put "North Country" in my DVD player I expected to be entertained, but nothing prepared me for the true power this movie exuberates, making it more than just entertainment, but a thought-provoking film instead.

After a battered relationship, Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron) wants to start life anew and take a job to properly support herself and her two children. The best paying jobs in her Minnesota smalltown come from a local steel mine. While the company hires women on occasion, as the law requires, but only because the law requires it. No one really wants the women there and as a result they are constantly abused, assaulted, ogled, groped and called filthy names.

At first Josey tries to deal with the rough working environment, mostly because she really needs the job. But the insults and overt sexual encounters keep getting to her. She tries to raise a voice for the women working in the mine but no one wants to listen. After a series of increasingly demeaning practical jokes and an attempted rape, she quits the job and decides to sue the company for sexual harassment. A lawyer friend of hers tries to take it to court but in order to succeed they need to find additional plaintiffs to turn this case into a class action lawsuit which the company cannot belittle or discredit. But no one is willing to speak up…

She may be a very pretty woman but Charlize Theron has proven more than once that she can handle tough parts exceedingly well – better maybe than the shallow glamour parts even – and once again she pulls through with all her might. Her portrayal of Josey is both powerful and touching. We can feel with her as she goes through the struggle and as she tries to get her life back in order. The dark secret from her past that keeps haunting her always boils under the surface constantly until it is finally resolved once and for all toward the film's third act. Josey is a multi-facetted character and Theron does a wonderful job playing out all these facets, from the battered wife to the single mom, the mine worker, the abused and intimidated beauty, all the way to the fighter for women's rights.
But also look for incredibly sensitive performances by Sean Bean and Frances McDormand, who help tremendously to root this entire story.

Since the film is loosely based on real events, it is particularly powerful and emotional to see how this exemplary class action lawsuit changed the work environment for men and women throughout the United States. While sexual harassment policies have been contorted out of their original meaning entirely these days and have been twisted into opportunities for frivolous lawsuits without end, no one can argue that this first class action lawsuit on sexual harassment was not only valid, but also necessary. To me it is always remarkable and disturbing just how certain people and groups have these feelings of supremacy over others. It always seems to go hand in hand with the lack of brain power so I am almost positive that there is some sort of correlation. The dumbest people usually have the most elitist attitudes, and lawsuits such as the one depicted in this film have certainly helped break down these walls in the workplace.

Warner Home Video is delivering a wonderful presentation of the movie on this DVD. The image is absolutely clear and reveals a very high level of detail. From the snow-covered plains to the darkest pits, color balance is extraordinary, reproducing every aspect of the film with vivid realism. Skin tones are naturally rendered and the black levels found in the transfer are deep and solid. No edge-enhancement distracts form the viewing and the compression is equally good, never creating any discernible artifacts.

The audio on the release comes as a balanced mix that makes subtle use of the surround channels. The haunting score by Gustavo Santaolalla is wonderfully integrated with a wide sound stage that helps immensely drive the atmosphere of the film. Some of the scenes make more aggressive use of the discrete surround channels but since this is mostly a character-driven story, ambient effects dominate the mix.

As extras, the release contains "Stories From The North Country." It is a featurette talking about the real case that inspired the film, including interviews with the women from that original case. But also, director Niki Caro talks about what made this story so powerful for her and why she felt she had to bring it to the screen. Cast members discuss their work with Caro and also how working their way into the characters and being on location has helped them to better understand the scope of the situation and vulgarity these women had to constantly endure. Additional scenes and the movie's theatrical trailer round out this release nicely.

"North Country" was a surprise for me. Filled with solid performances and a story that is both disgusting and heart-wrenching at times, this is a film everyone should see, if only to understand to what extend some women were degraded before sexual harassment policies were instated in the work place. It is a film that is powerful and inspiring. Get it now!