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Warner Home Video presents
North Country (2005)

Bill White: Take my advice. Find another job. Start over.
Josey Aimes: I don't have any start-over left.

- Woody Harrelson, Charlize Theron

Review By: Nate Meyers   
Published: February 21, 2006

Stars: Charlize Theron
Other Stars: Frances McDormand, Thomas Curtis, Woody Harrelson, Jeremy Renner, Elle Peterson, Sean Bean, Richard Jenkins, Sissy Spacek, James Cada, Rusty Schwimmer, Linda Emond, Michelle Monaghan, Jillian Armenante, Amber Heard, John Aylward, Xander Berkeley, Cole Williams
Director: Niki Caro

MPAA Rating: R for sequences involving sexual harassment including violence and dialogue, and for language
Run Time: 02h:06m:13s
Release Date: February 21, 2006
UPC: 012569593404
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B B-BA- C

DVD Review

Just last month, we were reminded of the dangers mineworkers face every day they go to work. There are few things more heartbreaking than a person who suffers or dies merely trying to support their family. While North Country's subject matter about a woman suing a Minnesotan mining company over sexual harassment is somewhat trampled by recent images of West Virginian families grieving over the loss of their loved ones, it still has a story that should be known.

Inspired by the landmark 1984 class-action lawsuit that changed sexual harassment policy around the nation, the film centers on the fictional story of Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron). Caught in an abusive marriage with two children, Sammy (Thomas Curtis) and Karen (Elle Peterson), Josey leaves her husband during the thick of winter. The hostile, frozen landscape of Minnesota's Iron Range perfectly captures her predicament as she tucks tail and moves back in with her loving mom, Alice (Sissy Spacek), and disapproving father, Hank (Richard Jenkins). It doesn't take a genius to realize that working at a hair salon won't help Josey get her life up and running again, so she takes a job working at the mine after speaking with one of its union reps, Glory (Frances McDormand).

Together, the screenplay by Michael Seitzman and Niki Caro's direction craft a vivid, accurate portrait of the harsh realities of mining. Everything—from the cinematography to the dialogue to the sound design—presents a compelling atmosphere that brings the viewer right into Josey's story. Immediately upon arriving for her orientation, the attractive Josey finds herself the subject of vulgar comments. The other women have forced themselves into accepting this as part of the job, but things escalate as some male miners start to blame Josey and another new recruit, Sherry (Michelle Monaghan), for stealing a "man's job."

While the film's main narrative drive is Josey's struggle to obtain equal rights, some of the most affecting moments are the quiet exchanges that happen outside of work. A particularly powerful scene comes shortly after she starts working and takes her children out for lunch: eating at a run-of-the-mill diner, Josey has such satisfaction that she can finally afford a decent meal for her children. It's a stirring victory, however minor, that showcases the intrinsic beauty of heading up a family. It's moments like this that make the scenes in the mine all the more effective. When Josey's high school boyfriend, Bobby Sharp (Jeremy Renner), attempts to intimidate her into a sexual encounter, it resonates more due to the viewer seeing Josey repair her family life. Theron gives a deeply moving performance, lending credibility to a role that could easily play as a caricature. She conveys the hurt and anger of the character with gravitas, which anchors a film that has more than a few errors in its plotting.

After succeeding beyond description with Whale Rider, Caro stumbles with her storytelling here. The decision to have the film begin with Josey's trial results in a gratuitous use of nonlinear storytelling that creates awkward juxtapositions. When Josey approaches the disillusioned Bill White (Woody Harrelson) and he refuses to take her case, the scene loses a great deal of its power because we already know he takes it. There's also a sense of monotony; the various forms of harassment become quite repetitive, with more than a few scenes dwelling on obscenities written on the wall, and although they may be accurate historically, they become tedious cinematically. Furthermore, the character development is weak when it comes to the supporting cast. Josey's dad opposes her so vehemently that it is difficult to understand why he would come to her aid when he does.

But despite some problems with the film's form, the acting is virtually sublime. While everyone in the cast takes a backseat to Theron's commanding lead, the ensemble is intricate to the movie's success. Frances McDormand, as usual, is powerful as the tough-talking Glory, presenting a three-dimensional character with only limited screen time. Thomas Curtis also turns in fine work as Sammy, playing the angst-ridden teenager with no trace of self-consciousness. The rest of the cast is somewhat under used, especially Sissy Spacek, but they all lend a strong presence that nearly compensates for the lackluster storytelling. The uses of Bob Dylan's music and Chris Menges' beautiful cinematography also give a fitting ambience.

It is impossible not to compare North Country with Fargo (especially with McDormand on board), since both not only deal with the mannerisms and the harsh winters of Minnesota, but also depict a woman working a traditionally male-dominated profession. As a Minnesotan, I can testify that the Coen Brothers' film taps into the local culture with more astute insights and a greater sense of the land's realities (for example, in Caro's film nobody ever puts gloves on when they're in sub-zero temperatures). However, both films deliver strong support for courageous women trying to make their way in this world. While in some ways this is very much a Hollywood look at a woman's struggle to find equal rights, it still gets the message across and has a couple moments of exceptional grace.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is somewhat of a mixed bag. Overall, this is a nice representation of the theatrical experience, with nice black levels and impressive colors, but there are some notable flaws. There's a trace of grain in the mining scenes that is somewhat excessive compared to what was in the theaters. Also, I noticed some artifacting on the shots of the snowy landscapes.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix delivers crisp, audible dialogue and some nice ambience. The rear-channel speakers are put to good use with the sounds of the mine and the soundtrack's music. Sound separation and directionality aren't employed often, which is fitting for the film's style. This is a well-balanced track that engages the viewer. A French Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is also available.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Must Love Dogs, Monster-in-Law
9 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:04m:09s

Extras Review: The special features assembled here are brief. Prior to the main menu there are previews for Must Love Dogs and Monster-in-Law. A short documentary, Stories From the North Country (16m:06s), gives a brief synopsis on the real life story of Lois Jenson and her lawsuit that inspired the film featuring interviews with Jenson and others involved in the case. Following that are nine deleted scenes (playing together for a total runtime of 11m:05s). With the exception of You Stand Up, all of these seem rather superfluous and were wisely cut from the final film. The movie's effective theatrical trailer is here, presented in anamorphic widescreen.

Extras Grade: C

 

Final Comments

A fine, albeit flawed examination of sexual harassment in Minnesota's mines, North Country contains exceptional acting and beautiful images that nearly eclipse its weak storytelling. This DVD is light on the extras, but the image and sound transfers provide an engaging experience.

 


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