Picks and Pans Review: North Country

UPDATED 10/31/2005 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 10/31/2005 at 01:00 AM EST

Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sissy Spacek, Michelle Monaghan, Richard Jenkins

CRITICS CHOICE

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Josey Aimes (Theron), struggling to raise two kids by different dads, moves back in with her folks in northern Minnesota. She takes a job in the local coal mine, a rarity for women in 1989, because it pays six times what she made as a hairdresser. "You gotta get a gator skin on, you gonna work in this s—hole," warns a female colleague (McDormand, terrific as ever).

All the protective layering in the world cannot shield Josey and the other women miners from constant sexual harassment by male coworkers in North Country, a laudable drama inspired by a real-life precedent-setting class action suit. These women, hardly pinups in heavy overalls, helmets and layers of grime, find sex toys hidden in their lunch boxes, feces and other bodily fluids smeared in lockers and much worse. What North, as deftly directed by Niki Caro (Whale Rider), does especially well is show that it's misplaced rage and resentment—not lust—that fuels such attacks.

Just as Sally Field did with Norma Rae and Julia Roberts with Erin Brockovich, Theron triumphs as a working class heroine. She's far less showy than she was in Monster, and all the more effective for it. (R)

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