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North Country

Real-life legal cases are often slow, protracted, intricate affairs; hardly the stuff of tense, T-shirt-over-the-nose cinema. Which is presumably why New Zealander Caro’s (‘Whale Rider’) first Hollywood film is only ‘inspired by’ Jenson vs Evelenth Taconite Co, the first class-action sexual harassment case – a convoluted, crowded affair that lasted from 1975 to 1998.

The movie covers the inaugural details dramatically and plausibly. Single mom-of-two Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron slumming it again, if not quite in her ‘Monster’ make-up this time) joins a small clutch of women, including feisty Frances McDormand (sounding ‘Fargo’-like), working in the unremittingly misogynist environment of a Minnesotan iron-ore mine. They suffer shocking abuses from their troglodyte colleagues: they’re groped and attacked on a daily basis, and find dildos in their lunch boxes, shit-smeared insults on their walls and cum on their clothes. Aimes complains, but it only serves to alienate her from her female co-workers and family, especially her miner father and stroppy teenage son.

So it’s off solo to the courtroom to sort things out, which is where the film breaks down. There’s a textbook shout-off between lawyer Woody Harrelson and a key witness, but more gobsmackingly ruinous is a revelation about Aimes’ sexual history that turns the whole case. Add a muddled timescale – her kids barely age a day, so exactly how truncated are the 23-year-long events? – and your faith in this retelling of a US legal watershed starts to wane.

Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Friday February 3 2006
Duration: 126 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Niki Caro
Screenwriter: Michael Seitzman
Cast: Charlize Theron
Frances McDormand
Sean Bean
Richard Jenkins
Jeremy Renner
Michelle Monaghan
Woody Harrelson
Sissy Spacek
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