"North Country," in which Charlize Theron plays a fictionalized version of the first woman to file a sexual harassment lawsuit in the United States, proves her acting chops yet again in an engrossing, well-crafted story of a grave injustice avenged.
Based on a real-life 1984 case in which Lois Jenson sued her employer, a Minnesota mining company, "North Country" tells the story of Josey Aimes (Theron), a young woman who flees an abusive marriage with two kids in tow, arriving on her parents' doorstep in Minnesota's bleak Mesabi Iron Range. At the encouragement of a friend named Glory (Frances McDormand), Josey gets a well-paid job at one of the mines, which have only recently begun to hire women. There, the women are routinely groped, verbally abused and physically threatened, culminating, in Josey's case, in a near-rape on a pile of taconite.
Although "North Country" is framed by tense courtroom scenes, the real drama comes from director Niki Caro's observant, even elegant depiction of the unspoken tribal codes that hold an insular community together and the severe price of transgressing them. (It's the same talent she brought to her film "Whale Rider.") She lets pictures and sound tell an otherwise didactic story, with panoramic shots of denuded hills and belching steam pipes and a brilliant soundtrack featuring the Iron Range's most famous son, Bob Dylan.
-- Ann Hornaday