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Thu October 13, 2005
The inspiration is the important element.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"Justice turns the scale, bringing to some learning through suffering." Aeschylus
Two-thirds of North Country won me over. The conditions under which women are depicted in the mines of northern Minnesota during the 1980's were dominated by sexual harassment, untried in court as class action, and waiting for someone like Lisa (Charlize Theron) to push for reform. The raw acts of physical and mental violence against her are almost too many to be credible, but as a symbol synthesizing all the wrongs to working women in America, Lisa endures.
Unlike some almost eloquent moments in Norma Rae, no one here is so gifted. Lisa can barely defend herself and her attorney (Woody Harrelson) is an ex-jock who doesn't even practice law anymore. But crusading director Niki Caro eventually brings enough players to the bench to make a fight against the stonewalling company and employees who avoid the truth in order to keep their jobs.
"Inspired by a true story" strikes fear into the historian's heart, but in this case the inspiration is the important element, not the actual history. North Country faces the realities of harassment that go from the sly innuendo to gang rape, and in this film almost everywhere in between. But those seeing it will be moved to support the oppressed workers.
The climax is a disappointment, not because it might be historically accurate but rather because it is not. How can the director of the mystical Whale Rider, which makes a case for equality through allegory, stoop to a clich?d courtroom triumph played on the screen too many times (notable recent exception: In The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the accused loses the decision)? In North Country it's all there: the witness who breaks down to supply the crucial evidence, the reluctant supporters who have an epiphany on the spot and stand up one at a time to support the heroine. Give me a break. I knew the class action would win, so why couldn't the creators think of another way?
Anyway, North Country proves the old Chinese proverb: "Justice resides naturally in people's hearts."
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com