Saturday, October 22, 2005

North Country - Movie Review

North Country 2005

Ah, Charlize Theron. Oscar winner,

stunning beauty,

and fuck buddies with Stuart Townsend.

But is she happy? Bitch better be. And after having seen her latest performance in "North Country", we certainly are. We’ll be honest. We had our doubts. From the previews alone, the marketing mooks at Warner Bros. made it seem like this would be “Silkwood-meets-Coal Miner’s Daughter.” But our faith in Miss Theron’s acting chops (we said it first, year’s ago, this gal had what it takes to be an Oscar winner, and we were right, so there . . . nyah!), the fine supporting cast, and most importantly in the talent and taste of the director, Niki Caro. For those of you living under a rug, Niki Caro directed the very fine coming of age story “Whale Rider”, which featured the in-fucking-credible acting debut of one thirteen year old Keisha Castle-Hughes who bowled us over with her screen presence and emotional powerhouse acting skills. And managed to snag a Best Actress nomination in the process, making her the youngest lead actress nominee in Academy history! Good for you, Keisha! She lost the Oscar. To Charlize Theron in “Monster.” Good for you, Charlize!

Back to the flick at hand. By now, you probably know that “North Country” spins a yarn set in a mythical time called 1989, about a northern Minnesota mining town, a down on her luck tramp who follows her father’s footsteps and begins to work at the mine, gets treated like a bucket of day ole shit by the good ole boys and decides to fight the man by launching a class action sexual harassment lawsuit against the mining company. And if that were all to the story, you’d be better off staying home and watching repeats of “Charmed.” Thanks be to the Cinema Gods that with Niki Caro at the helm, and her solid A-list line up of actors we are all in for a treat. First of all, Miss Caro is the real deal. She not only knows her way around a director’s chair, she has the innate cinematic flair that cannot be taught at film school. This is not some dull courtroom drama, neither is it some boring “message movie" that bludgeons us over the head until we are ready to cave in like a dimestore junkie begging for release. This movie earns its stirring “courtroom dramatics” ending by taking the time to portray the characters as human beings, choosing their battles cautiously, and only finding the courage to stand up for themselves when they are unable to withstand any further degradation. We like how Miss Caro casually drops in the famous contemporary Anita Hill testimonials, not so much as a source of inspiration for Charlize’s character, but rather as a background image to help frame the action. Charlize’s character, Josey is aware that the cultural landscape is changing, and the fact that she and a few fellow miners are women should not prevent them from enjoying a harassment free work zone. The director and screenwriter are to be applauded for addressing the issue of sexual harassment without making it a diatribe. These are coal miners we are speaking of. Not dance instructors. We don’t expect them to be gentlemanly or gallant. Their workplace is an extension of their manliness, and they clearly are threatened by any little woman who dares to enter their boys club, and unfortunately for the ladies in question and themselves they do not choose valor as the better part of discretion. We have always marveled at how easily most people defend sexual harassment as “boys being boys”, when the true question should be, are they still human beings? At what point does expressing your masculinity entitle you to shit all over someone? Literally. Pretty much never in our opinion. Unless you're into that sort of thing. Ew.

Charlize Theron has really grown into her own as an actress. She was always better than her material, gamely playing the girlfriend, the neglected wife, the monkey’s toy, until some brave producers threw her a bone and tossed her a bona fide ringer with her no holds barred, eyeliner tossed to wind portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos in “Monster”. Yes, she gained the extra weight, and disappeared under the make-up, but more importantly she immersed herself completely in the fleshy skin of a vile character. The effectiveness of “Monster” lay not in its “pretty-young-starlet-goes-gritty” hat trick; it brought home the gold by revealing the ugly truths of the evil we are capable of. And honestly, who hasn’t wanted to plug some john in the balls with their Colt .45 after getting date raped? Fess up, ladies. We certainly have. Charlize proved to cinemagoers and critics alike that she was a force to be reckoned with. And with “North Country”, she is allowed to take on the strongest female lead thus far this year. Let’s face it, if this year’s Oscars had to rely on strong female leads for their five nominees, we’d be rethinking Scarlett Johansson in “The Island.” (Here’s hoping the next two months bring us some solid competition, or it’s gonna be another bleak year for the gals.) Charlize manages yet again to get under the skin of a less than glamorous role, but she does it with less overt fanfare than her previous award winner. Here she plays a woman with limited means, who wants nothing more than a good job to help feed her two kids, and allow her the financial freedom to stand on her own two feet and not have to rely on her family or god forbid, her abusive lout of a husband. Being the daughter of a miner, she understands that she is entering a male dominated blue collar world, but she is willing to brave that for the sake of her children. Frances McDormand portrays her friend, Glory, herself a woman who “drive truck” in the mines and alerts her to the dangers within. Glory is living with the ever so hunky Sean Bean, last seen soothing Jodie Foster’s frayed nerves in “Airport ’05.” While Glory may be the tough old broad who’s seen it all, she is not without her own difficult hurdles to overcome. We won’t reveal her sidestory, because its effectiveness would be ruined. Suffice to say, the ever reliable Frances should consider herself a prime candidate for another Best Supporting Actress nomination for her solid turn.

The Academy might want to clear two more slots on their ballots come this winter, ‘cause Sissy Spacek and Richard Jenkins as Charlize’s parents do wonders with their brief moments onscreen. We wish that Sissy’s role had been fleshed out a tad more, but with an actress of this caliber, she supplies the character’s backstory so naturally and so effectively it seems greedy of us to ask.
Richard Jenkins is a revelation in this part. Viewers will know him instantly from HBO’s “Six Feet Under, wherein he played the deceased patriarch Nathaniel Fisher. Sharp eyed moviegoers will also place him for his hilarious turn as the accidental LSD prank victim and gay cop in “Flirting With Disaster.” Neither role prepared us for his moment of glory in front of his fellow miners and union members in a crucial confrontation scene seen here. Good for you, Dick! The only actor we feel that was truly underused was Woody Harrelson as Josey’s lawyer. It’s not that he is bad, it’s simply that he is capable of so much more. But why quibble Sibyl? With so many things going right in this movie, we’ll lie down, spread our legs and take one for the team. We’re generous that way.

Kudos and plaudits are also in order for the cinematography by two time Oscar winning Chris Menges. This sometime director must be credited for his contribution to the overall feel of the industrial winter landscapes which are eerily beautiful, but never cross the line into picture postcard blandness. We also enjoyed the fine music score by one Gustavo Santaolalla, whose previous work includes Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Amores Perros and 21 Grams”, in addition to his brilliant score to Walter Salles’ “The Motorcycle Diaries.” Bravo, Gustavo! (Side note: We loved all three of those movies, especially the two that featured our future husband, Gael García Bernal! Pant, pant, drool, drool.)

So, what on earth on you waiting for? Go out today, and buy yourselves tickets to go see “North Country.” It’ll be one less flick to cross of your Oscar list in a couple of months. You heard it here first, kids. Now, please leave us alone so we can have some quality time Gael. Bless you all!
Directed by Niki Caro
Screenplay by Michael Seitzman
Inspired by the book “Class Action: The Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law,” by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler.

Charlize Theron as Josey Aimes
Frances McDormand as Glory
Sissy Spacek as Alice Aimes
Richard Jenkins as Hank Aimes
Woody Harrelson as Bill White
Sean Bean as Kyle
Thomas Curtis as Sammy Aimes

Cinematography by Chris Menges
Film Editing by David Coulson
Costume Design by Cindy Evans
Original Music by Gustavo Santaolalla
Production Design by Richard Hoover
Art Direction by Gregory S. Hooper