North Country

January 28, 2012 6 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

“North Country” was a movie that I’d heard about (namely for Charlize Theron and Frances McDormand’s performances) but never saw. The DVD has great timing, arriving just before the Oscars and little did I know that “North Country” tackled the sexual harassment issue. Then again, I try to know as little as possible about the movies I review because it gives me an unbiased opinion of them. That said, sexual harassment brings me back to the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings nearly fifteen years ago (there’s archived footage shown throughout the movie as well). Having worked in an office in a time after this landmark case, it’s impossible to fathom the blatant abuse that women took while trying to earn a living. I will say that the things that happen in this movie seem a little over the top, but then again I’ve never worked for a mining company in Northern Minnesota, either.

The film is told in flashback as we meet Josie Aimes (Charlize Theron), a single mom whose husband abuses her. She makes an escape with her children to live with her parents and finds employment at the local mine (her father also works there). The pay is good, she has the benefit of a union as well; though there is harassment that she and the other handful of women must endure while on the job. She takes refuge in Glory (Frances McDormand), one of the tougher women and the women’s representative for the Union. It’s later discovered that Glory has Lou Gehrig’s disease, one of the film’s more morose subplots. It’s an uphill battle for Josie. Her son, Sammy (Thomas Curtis), rebels against her and the locals think her a slut. However, instead of being complacent and dealing with it she decides to try the legal route. With help from her friend and lawyer (Woody Harrelson), the movie shows Josie’s fight to try and get some justice for her fellow workers and women workers everywhere.

“North Country” has a lot more to it than meets the eye. The performances by Theron and McDormand are the two stand outs (and the two that the movie was nominated for), though supporting roles by Sean Bean and Sissy Spacek add to an already strong cast. Someone who I felt missed the mark was Woody Harrelson. His accent comes and goes and I really couldn’t help but draw some parallels to “Fargo”, though they were a bit more cartoonish. As a white male, I’m immune to the amount of favoritism, prejudice and harassment that goes on in the world and I’m glad movies like “North Country” are out there – showing us what it’s really like. I doubt McDormand and Theron will come home with another Oscar for their roles, but stranger things have happened. At any rate, it’s good to see a few well-made movies surface at Oscar time.

Video: How does it look?

The movie is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that looks great. It showcases all of the “beauty” that is Northern Minnesota. There is no audio commentary, so I’m assuming that the director wanted to show us the bleakness that surrounds the town and the mine in particular. Nearly every scene is shot indoors or at night and the outside scenes don’t have any sunlight in them at all. That said, the image is good and I saw no signs of blemishes or flaws, just a bit of softness during some scenes. The movie is also available in a full-frame transfer should you want to miss out on nearly half of the picture.

Audio: How does it sound?

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is robust at times, but for the most part it serves its purpose. “North Country” is a dialogue-driven movie with very little ambiance. There are a few scenes at the mine in which the surrounds come into play, but not so many that it begs to be remembered. The action is limited to the front stage and if I didn’t know better, I’d say it was a surround mix. Still, movies like this aren’t relying on the audio to make an impression. No real complaints here, audio-wise.

Supplements: What are the extras?

I was kind of surprised that this DVD didn’t have more to offer in the supplements department. There’s a theatrical trailer, seven deleted scenes (shown in non-anamorphic widescreen) and an interview with some of the women who worked with Josie at the mine. And that’s it. Nothing else. Perhaps if this cleans up on Oscar night, we’ll be treated to a version with some commentaries by McDormand and Theron, but for the time being this is all we have. “North Country” is a strong, powerful movie that has some great performances. If you can handle the subject matter, I’d recommend it.

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