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NORTH COUNTRY

The Simple Beginnings of a Life-Changing Journey
When Josey Aimes (Academy Award winner Charlize Theron) takes a stand against the mining company where she works, "she isn't looking to become a leader or make a statement,” says North Country director Niki Caro, whose insightful direction and screenplay for 2002's magical Whale Rider earned accolades worldwide. "She just wants what every parent wants, to make a decent life for herself and her family.”

It starts out just that basic and personal. "She doesn't realize she is launching herself into the battle of her life.” Josey Aimes is a single mother of two. Newly separated and with nowhere else to go, she returns to her childhood home in Northern Minnesota, where her parents (Academy Award winner Sissy Spacek and Six Feet Under's Richard Jenkins) receive her with mixed emotions. Strong on tradition and mindful of their reputation in the small community, they believe she should reconcile with her husband instead of striking out on her own, but for Josey – this time – there is no going back.

Determined to get back on her feet as soon as possible, Josey enters the job market and finds limited opportunities, until a chance meeting with an old friend, Glory Dodge (Academy Award winner Frances McDormand), opens up an enticing possibility she hadn't even considered – the local mine.

As one of the very few women on the mining crew and the only female union rep since her devoted partner Kyle (Lord of the Rings' Sean Bean) was injured at work and permanently sidelined, Glory offers an honest picture of the pros and cons of the job. It's tough, exhausting physical labor that will leave her muscles aching. The plant is grimy and dank, the pit can be treacherous and the air thick with soot, but that's not the worst of it. The predominately male workforce isn't exactly welcoming.

Although many are decent and most have at least the courtesy to keep their opinions to themselves, there are a volatile few who take every opportunity to remind the women they're not wanted there, with a steady stream of insults, innuendo, vulgar remarks and pranks that tread – and often push – the line between locker-room humor and out-and-out harassment. "The mine is like a free zone for them,” says Caro, "where they can say and do things they might not say or do in town. The way they see it, these women have invaded their territory. If they don't like it, they can quit.”

She'll have to be tough, Glory warns. Don't show that it gets to her. Learn to give it right back to the guys or at least keep her mouth shut and go about her business. Come payday, she says, it's all worthwhile. There isn't a job in town that can match what Josey will make at the mine. With that kind of income, she might even be able to buy her own home.

Encouraged by the promise of self-sufficiency, Josey signs up, despite her mother's hushed but grave misgivings and her father's clear opposition. A lifelong mining veteran himself, and one of those who staunchly oppose the integration of female workers, Hank takes his daughter's decision as a personal affront and all but stops talking to her. It's her first indication of what to expect on the job.

Though forewarned, Josey is still caught off-guard by the level of tension at the mine. Even more unsettling is her discovery that one of the worst offenders is someone she crossed paths with years ago and who might still harbor unresolved feelings about an incident in their past – her former high school classmate Bobby Sharp (Jeremy Renner, of S.W.A.T. and Dahmer), now a shift supervisor and one of her bosses. But she doesn't have long to worry about Bobby; there are more immediate concerns, like what kind of unpleasant surprise might turn up in her locker or maybe in her lunchbox at break time.

"The story investigates a grey area of male/female interaction and the gradations between the innocuous and the offensive,” Caro explains, noting

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