A female mine worker faces brutal sexual harassment and leads the way for the first U.S. class action lawsuit in such a case.
Bill Maher issued a "New Rule" when this film first came out: "New rule: Charlize Theron must be hot again." This was as he showed a picture of Theron covered in grime, a still from North Country. Isn't it ironic that she would still be seen as a sex symbol in a film that discourages seeing women as sex symbols? Such jokes - and they are not just jokes - constitute the cultural problem at the center of this slow-paced but compelling drama.
The performances by Theron and Frances McDormand are fantastic, each actress able to embody both natural femininity and the masculine mask they must put on in order to function in the mine. The most compelling scene in the film is provided by Richard Jenkins, who must defend his daughter against the screaming taunts of his co-workers.
But there are issues with the film. First, it delves into a few cliches along the way, including the climactic courtroom revelation, which I won't give away; suffice it to say that you won't be surprised. Second, on two occasions, the first being the Richard Jenkins scene and the second the very existence of the Woody Harrelson character, men are required to give women a voice. It seems as though the film is so self-conscious about not demonizing men that it contradicted its point by portraying men as necessary for female political and social action.
Overall, North Country starkly presents a serious cultural problem that, though set in 1989, certainly resonates today.