North Country


Time Out says

Front-loaded with Oscar winners and manipulative three-hankie moments, this melodrama about a female coal miner (Theron) who established a precedent for sexual-harassment lawsuits is a textbook case of earnest-message moviemaking. Based on a true story? Yup. Protagonist bucks a patriarchal system while scoring a victory for little people everywhere? Uh-huh. But there's plenty of tragedy to overcome before it's time to stand up and cheer, right? People, you don't just get unwanted gropings, obscene graffiti and physical intimidation; there's also a character with Lou Gehrig's disease and a long-buried childhood rape that's resurrected in court just in case your heartstrings are made of battleship steel. Take out the A-list marquee names, and you'd swear it was a season's worth of Lifetime programming spliced into one film.

What's even more disappointing is that New Zealander Niki Caro, the director behind the fantastic and femmecentric Whale Rider (2002), isn't able to pull a Soderbergh la Erin Brockovich and rise above the material. The filmmaker displays a knack for capturing a dangerous, downbeat side of regional Americana—a shot of trussed deer in a truck-bed speaks volumes—but her reliance on heavy inspirational speechifying and dewy-eyed close-ups brings nothing new to a warhorse narrative. Throw in some stock caricatures (Fargo-accented McDormand as the plucky sidekick, Harrelson as the do-gooder lawyer, Sissy Spacek as a stoic yet loyal mom), and you're left with nothing but a standard movie-of-the-week. (Opens Fri)—David Fear



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