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North Country Reviews

In 1984, after suffering years of sexual harassment while working at a northern Minnesota mine, Lois Jensen did the unthinkable: She filed a complaint against the mining company, which she believed was doing nothing to discourage behavior that was creating a hostile work environment. The ensuing battle made legal history, but you'd never know it from this badly botched, heavily fictionalized account of her dramatic story. Fleeing an abusive marriage, Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron) packs up her teenage son (Thomas Curtis) and young daughter (Elle Peterson) and heads back to her childhood home on the Iron Range, that unforgiving stretch of northern Minnesota country where folks — men, mostly — can make a good living working for one of the many mines that scar the landscape. Josey moves back in with her meek mother, Alice (Sissy Spacek), and miner father, Hank (Richard Jenkins), but her relationship with her parents deteriorates after old friend Glory (Frances McDormand) convinces her to take a job at the rough-and-tumble Pearson mine. Men outnumber women 30 to 1, but Josey can make six times what she'd make at the local beauty shop. Hank believes a mine is no place for a woman, and Josey quickly finds out he's not alone: She's exposed to a barrage of offensive comments, pornographic graffiti, taunts and threats of sexual violence. Fearful for their jobs, the other women are willing to stand for it. But Josey takes her complaint first to the chauvinistic head of personnel (Xander Berkeley), who sneeringly tells her to "take it like a man," then to Mr. Pearson himself (James Cada), who strongly implies that she's a troublemaking slut. As her reputation worsens along with the conditions at the mine, Josey convinces her new love interest, lawyer Bill White (Woody Harrelson), to sue the whole Pearson mine in what will be the first class-action sexual-harassment suit ever, if she can convince the other women to join her. Screenwriter Michael Seitzman — who could use a remedial course in feminism himself — not only robs Josey of her Norma Rae moment in front of an angry union hall by letting her daddy do all the talking, but he rewrites the story's history-making climax so it pivots on whether or not Josey was raped as a teenager, when the whole point is that her past shouldn't matter. Directed by WHALE RIDER's Niki Caro and studded with wasted performances, what should have been an important addition to popular films about women's rights winds up being the most insulting courtroom drama since Ally McBeal was put out of its misery.