I was expecting to like this a lot more than I did. It got off to an okay start, then completely crashed and burned in a ridiculous courtroom scene. Now, I understand that real courtrooms are the dullest places on the planet 99.9% of the time, Perry Mason notwithstanding, and that some dramatic license is allowable. But this was not only over the top, it would have skimmed right over Mount Everest.
But I had some other problems before that. Synopsis: Beaten wife Josey (Charlize Theron) gets a job in the iron mines. Men outnumber women 30 to 1. She and the other women are harassed in large and small ways. She files a class action sex discrimination suit, the first in the nation. She wins.
The real case here stretched over almost 20 years. Okay, I’ve got no real beef with compressing it, but since all the characters are fictional, they could have made Josey into whoever they wanted to. Same with her friend Glory (Frances McDormand). Both are entirely made up. They could have told the story more or less straight, but in an attempt to tackle all the bad things that can happen to a woman, they made up a side story of rape in her teen years. By a teacher, no less. So, raped, beaten, with zero support from her father, her union, the bosses, her women workmates, all the women in town who perceive her as a slut out after their husbands, and especially, of course, every man on the job … doesn’t this feel a little like piling on?
Make no mistake, I’m on her side, politically, 100%. But it occurred to me that this wasn’t entirely a women’s problem. What it is about, is bullying. Men have to endure it, too, though not usually with the sexual element. And the plain fact is, some women are not cut out to be miners. Nor are some men. I’m not cut out for it. Some women are not cut out to be cops. Neither are some men. I’d make a terrible cop. Ditto firefighters, and a thousand other careers where the job description is dealing with asshole bullies 8 hours a day, whether they are criminals or your co-workers. I believe there must have been men at that mine who had no problem working alongside women, but none were shown. Not one. The movie is unrelenting from frame one, which shows Josey lying in her kitchen in her own blood. The only men we see at the mine are the unreachable bullies, the assholes whose lives are shit but who are compelled by their testosterone to try to at least be the alpha male in the little shithole they call home or workplace. Their turf. The wife-beaters, the macho men unsure of their manhood. They pick on all women, and on any man who is smaller or more timid than them. This happens in offices as well as mines.
Some people can handle it, and some just can’t. Glory is tough, she lets the small stuff roll off her back, gives as good as she gets, and if a line is crossed, she will kick you in the balls. She knows exactly where that line is. That, in the end, is the only way to survive in an iron mine. I wish this story had been about Glory. She had a hundred times more gumption than Josey … which makes it all the more unbelievable to me that Josey would be the one to face down the entire sexist system.