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Rams

"warm, funny, tender and down-to-earth"

★★★★ - GUARDIAN 

-  Sam Neill and Michael Caton's unpretentious sheep farmers will move ewe - 

Rams is a lovely, even-tempered drama about men and rural life, gentle but firm of spirit, with a down-to-earth pith and a way of entertainingly and unpretentiously exploring potentially difficult subjects such as masculinity. Director Jeremy Sims and screenwriter Jules Duncan faithfully remake the excellent Icelandic film of the same name, which won best film in the Un Certain Regard category at Cannes in 2015 and tells the story of two brothers who live on neighbouring sheep farms but haven’t spoken in many years.

In the Australian version, the protagonist Colin (Sam Neill) is the more affable of the pair, a sensible chap with savoir-faire, who gazes upon his cattle with love and reverence, literally telling them how beautiful they are. Les (Michael Caton) is quite the opposite: a stink-eyed “get orf my lawn!” type, with zero patience and a glowering disposition, prone to epic solo drinking sessions followed by marinating while comatose in the sun.

Handsomely shot by Steve Arnold in and around Mount Barker in the Great Southern region of Western Australia, with occasional roving drone shots that make the film look a little touristy, much of the drama takes place on the brothers’ farms, the MacGuffin arriving in the form of a terrible disease that infects one of Les’ prize-winning rams. Authorities decree that every sheep in the valley must be killed for the sake of containment, which means, in addition to the brothers losing their livelihood, the potential end of their prized bloodline.

A small group of local farmers meet and spitball ideas on how to react, with Les on the side (illustrating his outsider status) kvetching loudly, while preparing himself a scone. “They don’t know, do they?” he bellyaches, “they just come here and–” then he abruptly stops mid-sentence, upon discovering there’s no more cream left in the bowl in front of him.

Les never concludes that line. Sims chops the sentence off and lets it linger; lets the silence take hold for a beat or two. Usually scripts deliver neat lines with neat finishes, film-makers turning the loose threads of real-life into smooth contrivances. The incompleteness of this moment gives it something paradoxically interesting: a special kind of mundanity, and an imperfection that suits the film’s earthy tones. It is indicative of an experience that is not going to rush for you.

It isn’t clear where the plot of Rams is heading, particularly for those who haven’t seen the Icelandic film. The trailer seems to indicate the brothers might do something to please the gods of genre algorithms, joining forces for instance in some kind of sheep-shearing competition and returning home triumphant, lugging a big golden trophy. But that is not the case at all.

Sims has learned from Grímur Hákonarson (who directed the original) important lessons about containing a film tonally, with few of the stark switches between “happy” and “sad” that made his previous feature Last Cab to Darwin a limited, dictatorial experience emotionally. At the heart of the picture are two very appealing performances from Neill and Caton, who feel even from early moments like real, lived-in characters, well cast to reflect their differences as actors. Caton has always been a bit scruffier and Neill a bit slicker. The former is the kind of bloke who eats rissoles and goes to Bonnie Doon for the weekend; the latter looks good in a leather jacket.

The “neighbouring brothers who don’t speak to each other” setup could have felt like high-concept gimmickry, but it rings true in a funny sort of way. By contrasting geographic closeness with emotional distance, Sims explores a truth we are all confronted with: that there are certain things – particularly those involving our bloodlines and backgrounds – none of us can ever really escape; things that follow us everywhere even if we never move. It’s funny at times – but also tender and touching: the cinematic equivalent of a gently moving turn of phrase.

- Luke Buckmaster, THE GUARDIAN

RAMS is now playing at Light House Cinema! 

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