(2005)3.5Derek ArmstrongWith North Country, director Niki Caro demonstrates astonishing range, effortlessly swapping Maoris coming of age in New Zealand (Whale Rider) for Minnesotans navigating the wintry terrain of sexual harassment. But there's a common theme to her work: girls/women carving out an equal role for themselves in a masculine world. North Country may not have the heart of a Whale Rider, nor of its thematic progenitor, Norma Rae, but it makes up for that in earnestness of purpose. Charlize Theron earned her second Best Actress nomination by inhabiting the same landscape that won her the statue for Monster -- a gritty, lived-in mélange of imperfections, from which her character is by no means exempt. Chris Menges' stunning camerawork brings alive the bleak beauty of the setting, which mirrors the characters' frigid attitudes on political correctness. One gets a slight sense that the depictions of Josey Aimes' misogynistic co-workers are exaggerated, but that could be because it seems hard to believe such malevolently dumb behavior ever prevailed in the workplace. Frances McDormand, also nominated in the supporting category, is equally superlative as Josey's sometimes-reluctant friend and champion. Regardless of its allegiance to the true events, the subplot involving the questionable parentage of Josey's oldest son tends to distract from the narrative. While the skeletons in Josey's closet undoubtedly make her a more complex character, not simply a martyr, they add sensationalism to a scenario already rich enough with it, just from the pornographic hostility aimed at Josey. A few minor misdirections aside, North Country is an unblinking portrait of a regular woman simply pursuing a regular level of respect.