Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron) takes her two young children back to her North Minnesota home, away from her abusive de-facto husband. Desperate for work and encouraged by her mining trucker friend Glory (Frances McDormand) she takes a job along a handful of other women at the local mine company, where the men resent the women and degrade them, insult them and intimidate them. They\'re taking men\'s jobs and invading a man\'s world. Management behaves no better, but most of the women are too scared for their jobs to protest. Josey engages reluctant lawyer Bill White (Woody Harrelson) to sue the company for sexual harassment - under a new workplace law.

Caro is clearly a talent and has confidently fashioned a film as compelling as it is relevant.

The last time model-turned-actress Charlize Theron shed make up to play a gritty blue collar character she won an Oscar for it. Her role in Monster, as serial killer Aileen Wuornos, was the very antithesis of glamour, as is her latest in heavy-hitting realist drama, North Country.

The star teams up with New Zealand director Niki Caro, making her first American feature after the resounding success of Whalerider (2003). Based on a real life case from 1989, North Country is a story of victimisation inside the work place. Set at a gigantic iron mine in Northern Minnesota, Theron plays Josie, a single mum with a damaging sexual past. After fleeing yet another violent relationship she lands on the doorstep of her parents (Sissy Spacek and Six Feet Under\'s Richard Jenkins), broke and in search of a job to support her family. The local mine is the only place hiring. And unwittingly Josie walks into a war zone. The women are reminded daily that the mine is a \'male only\' space, silently enduring an abusive campaign of sexual harassment. Deemed a troublemaker, Josie is the only one to speak out and she is royally punished as a result.

Comparable to Michael Mann\'s The Insider (1999) or Mike Nichol\'s Silkwood (1983), North Country too is a film about a character who goes against consensual codes of conduct. But that\'s just where North Country starts. The interesting and perhaps most significant part of this drama is how much time is devoted to looking at the reactions Josie\'s subversive behaviour has on those around her, especially with respect to the two main men in her life: teenage son Sammy (Thomas Curtis) and father Hank (Jenkins). Both are ashamed of her as a woman and a mother. Josie is an overt sexual being; she likes to have a good time but often puts up with men who treat her badly. By the time she decides to take a stand against the same kind of victimisation in her workplace, the damage is done. Both her son and father already see her as a \'whore\' and have enormous difficulty in respecting her stand to \'just say no\' this time.

(In this film the term \'whistleblower\' is synonymous with \'whore\'). This is just one of the interesting dynamics at play in North Country. Hollywood doesn\'t make these kinds of serious \'female whistleblower\' movies very often anymore, unless you count Steven Soderbergh\'s Erin Brokovich (2000), which is a far sassier entertainment. It more recalls the dramatic turf mined by female activist films such as Norma Rae (1979) and Silkwood (1983). And especially rape drama The Accused (1984), another stark examination of sexual inequality and power, punctuated by firey courtroom scenes. Although shes not quite up there with Sally Field, Meryl Streep or Jodi Foster (the stars of aforementioned movies), Theron acquits herself very well in the central role, beautifully supported fellow Oscar winners Frances McDormand (Fargo) and the original \'coal miner\'s daughter, Sissy Spacek.

North Country makes no apologies for its feminist approach to the material, but it would be hasty to right it off as a simple exercise in \'male bashing\'. It is complex and mature in its approach. Caro is clearly a great directing talent and has confidently fashioned a film as compelling as it is relevant. Unfortunately, it rings all too true.