Charlize Theron may have won an Oscar for her work in “Monster,” but she gives her best performance to date in “North Country,” a film based on the first major successful sexual harassment case in the United States.

Theron plays Josey Aimes, an abused wife who returns to her parents in Minnesota with her two kids, looking to start over.

Eventually Josey gets a job in the local coal mine, but her presence - along with the employment of other women - is met by bitter resistance from the male co-workers.

Director Niki Caro takes what could have easily been dismissed as another “Norma Rae” or “Silkwood”-type film and uses a talented cast to give the film some sharp depth and a distinct tone.

“North Country” is actually a lot like Caro’s previous film, “Whale Rider.” The driving force of the plot is the dynamics of Josey’s relationships with her family and how a tragic event years earlier has fractured some of relationships.

The entire cast is very good. Sissy Spacek has a small but effective role as Josey’s mom. Richard Jenkins is outstanding as Josey’s dad, especially in two critical scenes late in the film.

Jenkins might find himself with an Oscar nomination, but he probably won’t be the only cast member to receive honors.

Frances McDormand is her usual reliable self as Glory, a female co-worker and union rep who serves as sort of a mentor to Josey.

And I wouldn’t be surprised to see Theron receive another nomination as well. I still don’t think “Monster” was a performance more than it was just an impersonation, but Theron is very credible in “North Country.” She perfectly captures the essence of her character - a woman who finally fights back after a long history of abuse.

Theron’s performance gives the film the emotional core needed to make it among the best films I have seen this year.

DVD dud of the week

This week’s dud is “Herbie: Fully Loaded” (D+) the Walt Disney update that gets off to a promising start before becoming just another by-the-numbers family film that fails on every level imaginable.

Lindsey Lohan plays Maggie Peyton, a recent college grad who gets Herbie as a gift from her father (Michael Keaton).

The car proves to be more than just a means of transportation, as Herbie quickly revives Maggie’s interest in following in her father’s NASCAR footsteps, as well as giving the family a much needed boost out of a racing slump.

There are plenty of problems with “Herbie,” beginning with the unusual decision to turn the car into a live-action Looney Toon character. It’s one thing to have the car spit oil at its enemies or drive on autopilot, but having Herbie appear to smile and wink and hit on another Volkswagen is too much. It just doesn’t go with the tone of the rest of the story.

Add to that the fact that the CGI-created car isn’t even the most interesting effect in the film, a distinction that belongs to Lohan’s chest, which was digitally reduced after some parents complained at test screenings that Lohan’s character revealed a little too much for a kids’ film.

Wonder how those parents would have reacted if they knew that the director of “Herbie: Fully Loaded,” Angela Robinson, was the writer and director of the lesbian schoolgirl spy caper “D.E.B.S.”?

The DVD extras include a day at the races featurette with NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Deborah Renshaw of Bowling Green, but it still isn’t enough to recommend adding “Herbie” to your DVD collection.

“Herbie: Fully Loaded” is rated G and now available on DVD.

North Country

Starring: Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand

Director: Niki Caro

Rating: R for sequences involving sexual harassment and language

Playing at: Great Escape 12, Highland Cinemas (Glasgow)

Grade: A-

— Sportwriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton is getting ready for Halloween, putting the finishing touches on his Roger Ebert costume. But he still has time to hear from you. Just drop him an e-mail at mcompton@bgdailynews.com. Or send any leftover candy to the Daily News, care of Micheal.

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