With the release of North Country the Oscar Avalanche has officially begun. It’s the time of year when the studios release a torrent of thought-provoking films with high-minded themes and actors with very serious expressions on their faces. North Country’s most obvious Oscar bait is Charlize Theron as Josie Aimes, a northern Minnesota iron-mine worker who launched a sexual harassment suit against her company. The Monster award winner delivers a finely modulated performance that portrays the frustrations of a person who, though scarred by injustice, wants to rise above it and make a better life for herself and her kids. I assume she’ll wear something more glamorous than her movie costume of work overalls to walk the red carpet on Oscar night.
This is a throwback to the women in industrial peril films like Silkwood and Norma Rae of the late 70s, early 80s and features good performances from its core cast. As Theron’s mother Sissy Spacek is in that particular phase of her career where she has morphed from playing The Coal Miner’s Daughter to the supporting role of a miner’s wife and mother. Frances McDormand fans will happily note that she resurrects her accent from Fargo for her role as a Minnesotan miner with Lou Gherig’s Disease and I was pleased to see Sean Bean taking a break from the patented Euro-trash villain roles he has been doing lately to explore a quiet, gentle character. Look for some supporting acting Oscar nods here.
North Country is loosely based on a true story, and if I have any quibble with the film it lies in playing fast and loose with the facts. The movie is set in the late eighties and while most of the details are correct Theron would need a time traveling television to be able to watch Anita Hill accuse Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, which happened in 1991. An old saying goes that the devil is in the details, and while this is a small detail, it briefly took me out of the story.
At the end of its two-hour running time North Country was a finely acted, nicely directed film that I didn’t completely connect with. It’s a film I admired more than liked.
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