Rams

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Rams
"Caton gets to exercise his acting muscles more than usual and the chemistry between the two performers is strong, leading to some poignant moments towards the end." | Photo: Signature Entertainment

In 2015, Grímur Hákonarson's Rams made a splash on the festival circuit, winning international acclaim. Made five years later, Jeremy Sims' take is not so much a tribute as a reimagining, shifting the action to Western Australia and featuring Sam Neil and Michael Caton as the feuding brothers whose long lives as sheep farmers are thrown into turmoil when one of their rams is found to be carrying a deadly disease. Government officials insisting that every sheep in the valley must be slaughtered and the land kept empty for two years prompts Neil's character, Colin, to take desperate measures, whilst Caton's Les looks on with a mixture of resentment, envy and growing sympathy.

Events here are spiced up by the presence of Miranda Richardson as local vet Kat, who takes a more than professional interest in Colin, but she may not be the ideal love interest for him when he's hiding sheep in his living room. As you'd expect, there's a far bit of comedy where this is concerned, especially when Colin decides to make things extra complicated by getting ram and ewes together. Viewers should be aware, however, than in other places - notably the early pat of the film - the tone is exceedingly bleak. UK viewers who remember the foot and mouth epidemic of 2001 will recognise the agony of farmers forced to cull animals they have raised from birth. Neil is exceptional in these scenes, reminding us of what he can do when not stuck in the gruff but likeable comedy roles that he plays so well.

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The real magic of the film, of course, lies in the relationship between the brothers, and although this never quite equals what we see in Hákonarson's film, there's a lot of enjoy about it. Caton gets to exercise his acting muscles more than usual and the chemistry between the two performers is strong, leading to some poignant moments towards the end. Though he's an alcoholic, Les is in many ways more realistic in his outlook than his brother. They're both passionate about what they do and, along with their wider clan, share a blustering contempt for merinos. The latter seem to represent a new, more conformist Australia - one that has little room for stubborn old men who let off steam by firing shotguns through one another's windows.

Though the basic story here is simple, the plotting doesn't always hang together as well as it might, with some of the farmers' actions really needing more explanation. In later scenes, particularly, thematic elements of the narrative become dominant over practical ones. The suggestion of apocalypse that's present when the cull takes place is recalled by scenes in which Colin works as a volunteer firefighter, tackling bush fires, and the existential threat which these pose looms large when he seeks refuge on a beach at what might as well be the edge of the world.

This is a film that will impact most strongly on farming folk themselves. If you've lost animals you may well find it hard going, but you'll also get a lot more out of the high points. There's no effort here to make the animals cute for a general audience. Like the brothers, they need to be accepted as they are. The brothers' love for them, however, will have you willing Colin's daft plan to succeed.

Reviewed on: 05 Feb 2021
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Rams packshot
A decades-long feud between two sheep farming brothers comes to a head when disaster strikes their flocks.

Director: Jeremy Sims

Writer: Jules Duncan, based on the film by Grímur Hákonarson

Starring: Sam Neill, Miranda Richardson, Asher Keddie, Michael Caton

Year: 2020

Runtime: 115 minutes

Country: Australia

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