Sunday 7 February 2021

RAMS review

In the Southern Australian valley of Mount Barker, the Grimurson brothers haven't spoken to each other for 40 years, despite living side by side on what once their family sheep farm, now split down the middle. When a bacterial infection forces them and all the local farmers to slaughter all their livestock, Colin (Sam Neill) secretly hides his prize ram and a few of his favourite ewes in his house, going to great lengths to avoid their discovery by his elder brother Les (Michael Caton) or the town veterinarian, Kat (Miranda Richardson) knowing that the Department of Agriculture could take his farm from him if they find out.

A remake of the 2015 Icelandic film, Hrutar (Rams in English), Rams transports the story to Southern Australia and casts Antipodean acting legends Sam Neill & Michael Caton as the warring Grimurson brothers. Separated by nothing more than stubbornness, a wire fence and a bitter feud that goes back decades, when Colin detects signs of Ovine Johne's Disease (OJD) in one of Les's prize-winning Rams, he has to report it to vet, Kat (Richardson). When the bureaucrats from the Department for Agriculture get involved, they order all local farms to relinquish their livestock to be destroyed to keep the OJD localised to their valley. Unwilling to let them take his flock away from the land they were raised on to be slaughtered, Colin does the sad deed himself, secretly storing the best of his animals in his home in the hope he can save the rare breed once the crisis is over.

There's a lot to be said for the appeal of a grizzled Sam Neill in a thick knit jumper, and although Colin isn't quite as socially awkward as Hec in Taika Waititi's Hunt for the Wilderpeople, he's on fine 'grumpy old bastard' form. Even so, he's able to carry on friendships with the local farmers, unlike his reclusive, alcoholic and extremely cantankerous elder brother who keeps himself to himself and only communicates with his brother via messages delivered by the farm's trusty sheepdog. Both victims of foolish pride, there's great performances from Neill and Caton - acting opposite each other for the first time since the 70's - and the film is at its best when they're sharing the screen, even if they're not sharing dialogue. The back and forth between them sees Les shooting Colin's boots with his rifle and Colin delivering his drunkard brother to hospital in the bucket of his digger, all without a shared word. 

There's much to enjoy in this sweet, charming romp, even if at 2 hours it's far longer than it needs to be. Time is taken to appreciate the sprawling Australian vistas for all their beauty, and the landscapes unforgiving nature as characters have to join forces and battle the threat of bush fires taking out the town. As a potential love interest for Colin, Miranda Richardson's Kat is sadly under utilised, and Leon Ford's Department of Agriculture agent stops just short of being a pantomime villain of William Atherton in Ghostbusters proportions, but when Colin and Les inevitably face off against each other and (fair enough, I'll say the obvious) lock horns, the film does switch up a gear and hits all the right tragic-comic notes to make Rams a bit of a beaut. 

A film about family and caring for one's own flock, it's genuinely touching to see Colin talk to his sheep to remind them "you are beautiful, you are beautiful, but you're best". There's a farcical, Wallace and Gromit-esque charm to seeing Sam Neill shepherd his flock around his tiny cabin, using his bathtub as a trough and a grate in the floor to secretly dispose of the mounds of sheep dung, and it's surprising how much comedy can be mined from a charming pair of low hanging sheep testicles. With delightfully curmudgeonly performances from Caton and Neill, Rams is as heart-warming as a thickly knit woollen jumper.



Signature Entertainment Presents Rams on Digital Platforms 5th February, and is available on iTunes.

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