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North Country

There’s a role — think Sally Field in Norma Rae or Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich — that is the equivalent of unzipping Oscar’s pants and going for it. Academy voters salivate for female crusaders, and Charlize Theron grabs herself a doozy as Josey Aimes in North Country. Josey is a single mother of two who dumps her abusive husband and heads back home to Minnesota to live with her folks (Sissy Spacek and Richard Jenkins, both admirable), work in a grimy iron mine and try to pretend that it isn’t demeaning to have men grab her ass. When Josey can no longer pretend, she hires a former New York lawyer (Woody Harrelson) and sues the ba ds. Her pals, even the plucky Glory (Frances McDormand), are too afraid to join her. Michael Seitzman’s script is “inspired by” a true story, which means any similarities between Josey and Lois Jenson, the real woman who made Eveleth Mines pay for their sins in a landmark 1988 class-action suit, are purely coincidental. Instead, we get a TV-movie fantasy of female empowerment glazed with soap-opera theatrics. The actors, director Niki Caro (Whale Rider) and the great cinematographer Chris Menges all labor to make things look authentic. But a crock is a crock, despite the ferocity and feeling Theron brings to the role. She didn’t win an Oscar for getting fat and ugly to play serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster — she won for digging deep into a scarred soul. Though the dirt and grime in North Country are artfully applied, it’s purely cosmetic and skin-deep.

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