Pale and resolute, Charlize Theron stares out of the poster for North Country, eyes uplifted, her blonde coif hidden beneath a pale yellow headscarf. The anonymous masses at her back underline the poster's echoes of Stalinist-era Soviet propaganda: she's a prole heroine in a transcendent heavenly light. St Charlize of the Oscar.
If the movie doesn't entirely sanctify Josey Aimes - a fictionalized character inspired by Minnesotan Lois Jensen - she comes perilously close to martyrdom at the hands of her overwhelmingly male coworkers in the Iron Range mine. These guys have no difficulty articulating their emotions. The abuse comes thick and heavy from day one, ranging from sexist remarks to intimidation, bullying, groping and assault.
Na´ve to assume such misogyny went out with the dark ages. Directed by New Zealander Niki Caro (Whale Rider) North Country is a blunt feminist consciousness-raiser, which draws explicit parallels between the Aimes/Jensen case and Anita Hill's contemporaneous testimony against US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.
The movie makes much of its authentic locations, but mostly it feels workmanlike (workwomanlike if you prefer), not truly lived. The casting of Theron, Frances McDormand (as token female union rep Glory) and Sissy Spacek (as Josey's mom) bespeaks Hollywood sisterhood, but it's hard to believe these characters share more than an agenda - and odd that the movie's two grandstanding speeches go to the men (Richard Jenkins as Josey's father; Woody Harrelson as her lawyer).
'Even when you win, you still don't win,' cautions Woody, before taking on the case. Naturally his words are forgotten in a hokey courtroom climax that supplies the requisite emotional uplift with minimal relevance to the issues at hand.