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    Friday, October 14, 2005

    More Movie Madness: North Country

    There are surprisingly few reviews of North Country, considering it opens on Oct 21 and ads are everywhere. Maybe next week. Here's one in Variety by David Rooney:

    Caro is a humanistic filmmaker, her work more satisfying and delicate in sketching the good guys than the bad. The camaraderie between the small group of women miners is observed with a gentle, economical touch, while the bullying men seem perhaps too collectively irredeemable a presence. When, during the turning point in the court hearings, a number of people of both genders stand in support of Josie, the invisibility of these representatives of good conscience during the earlier misdemeanors underlines a slightly nagging suggestion of heavy-handedness.

    But the movie's genuinely affecting strengths more than overcome this. Aided immeasurably by the gritty, unvarnished textures of Chris Menges' widescreen camera work, which gives the film both physical and emotional majesty, Caro creates a vivid sense of the women's isolation and powerlessness. This climate of fear and wariness is achieved not only through scenes depicting the indignities they suffer but also in the sheer brute presence of the mine itself: a big, clanking industrial monster squatting in the middle of a vast landscape blanketed in snow. The descriptive aerial shots are especially eloquent.

    The cast, too, is in top form. There's no grandstanding in Theron's lovely performance, just a quiet understanding and sensitivity to the ways in which a woman of average intellect and limited experience can summon the instinctive will to fight. (Without hammering the point, the script has Josie's articulation of sexual harassment issues fueled by TV coverage of the Anita Hill hearings.)

    While the drama perhaps doesn't need Glory's devastating illness, McDormand as always creates a memorable character, whose straight-up, savvy manner has made her the only respected woman in the mining company. And "Fargo""Fargo" fans will get a kick out of hearing her mouth those Minnesotan vowels again.

    Sean BeanSean Bean gets a welcome break from playing Euro villains, bringing gentle nuances to Glory's supportive husband. Woody Harrelson also plays well against type as a former ice hockey star-turned-lawyer, who takes on Josie's case as he inches hesitantly toward deeper involvement with her.

    Jenkins and Spacek supply complex shadings to Josie's conflicted parents, with Hank's unbending anger crumbling as family loyalty and personal morality take hold, while Alice's traditional religious views of spousal compliance are outweighed by her clear sense of what's right.

    Seitzman's script maintains a judicious balance between Josie's quest for justice and her dealings with family, in particular her troubled teenage son (Thomas Curtis). It's this depth of attention to the personal details beyond the drama's frontline agenda that successfully offset the programmatic developments in the later stages of the hearings.

    I'm really excited about this film. I was discussing it with a couple of feminist friends and they said they thought that it was boring because sexual harassment is a settled issue. I was shocked.
    I said, "Did you see Nerve a couple weeks back?"
    And, as far as blue collar and trades are concerned, the issue is even further from settled. I think that many people still feel women don't belong in those jobs, dirty and lifting heavy and wielding tools, whereas most people are able to deal with women clicking down the halls of office buildings in their high heels, hair done and legal pad in hand. Jobs which don't require degrees seem to be the most gender-segregated: building, construction, and other trades vs. cashiering at the supermarket and babysitting.

    That's why I was so pleased that sexual harassment was being dealt with in that context, where it (from my experience) most virulent and threatening, rather than tracing the perimeters of good humour or flirtation.

    Also, Caro is the director of Whale Rider, which I loved.


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