★★★★ - STUFF
- Could Sam Neill's ovine black comedy be the saviour of Kiwi cinemas? -
New Zealand’s favourite septuagenarian and vineyard proprietor’s career renaissance continues with a magnificent performance in this Australian black comedy.
After impressive, scene-stealing turns in Sweet Country, Peter Rabbit and Ride Like a Girl, Sam Neill is front and centre in a role that might just be one of his finest yet.
He plays Colin Grimurson, a Western Australian sheep farmer facing a devastating threat to his livelihood. A breeder of rare horned sheep unique to the region, he’s already had to swallow the disappointment of losing the coveted title of best ram to his brother Les (Michael Caton) at the Mt Barker Show, when he discovers something truly troubling. Les’ prize-winner is displaying all the symptoms of Ovine Johne’s Disease.
Enlisting the support of local vet Kat (Miranda Richardson), Colin’s worst fears are realised when the tests come back positive. The only solution to prevent this bacterial muscle wasting disease from sweeping through the area’s flocks and remaining a cloud over the region for years to come? Slaughtering them all, a thorough deep clean of each property and starting from scratch.
If digesting that news wasn’t bad enough for Colin, he’s got to persuade his reclusive, alcoholic brother as well. While they live just metres apart, running neighbouring stud farms and even sharing the same working dog (Floss or Kip, depending on which side of the fence he’s on), the pair haven’t spoken a meaningful word to each other for more than 40 years.
Raging against the order to destroy and blaming Colin for their plight, Les decides active defiance is how he’ll deal with the situation, something which will likely only prolong the agony for everyone else. But while Colin seems outwardly more resigned to his fate, he may have come up with a radical solution.
Adapted from the hit 2015 Icelandic movie of the same name, director Jeremy Sims (Beneath Hill 60, Last Cab to Darwin) and first-time screenwriter Jules Duncan (a former TV journalist) do a terrific job of transporting and updating the story to contemporary rural Australia. While the running time is long, it actually flies by, perhaps almost overstuffed with ideas, the pair not only battle with their consciences and the authorities, but also the ever-present menace of bushfires.
Likewise, tonally, Rams covers a gamut of emotions, from heartwrenching, sometimes unflinching, raw drama to almost knockabout Ealing-style comedy. There’s more than hint of Whisky Galore or Waking Ned Devine about the boys’ attempts to deceive the Department of Agriculture.
At times, Sims and Duncan don’t quite succeed in transitioning between dark humour and pervasive pathos, but, thankfully, the impressive ensemble are there to sell the story and see us through. Richardson (Churchill, Testament of Youth) and Caton (The Castle) are joined by Offspring’s Asher Keddie and actor-turned-director Wayne Blair (The Sapphires) in delivering terrific turns.
However, this is very much Neill’s show. Whether it’s his daily praise of his beloved stock, his fumbling courtship of Kat or his heartbreaking enforced cull, the 72-year-old has crafted a memorable character, drawing the audience in with his performance and taking them on a memorable journey filled with laughter – and tears.
The movie might not be perfect, but Neill is most definitely the reason why audiences should stop being sheepish about going to the cinema and flock to Rams.
- James Croot, STUFF
RAMS is now playing at Light House Cinema!