RAMS is a new Australian film starring Sam Neill and Michael Caton and directed by Jeremy Sims. The official blurb sets out the story:
In remote Western Australia, two estranged brothers, Colin and Les, are at war. Raising separate flocks of sheep, both descended from their family’s prized bloodline, these two men are working side by side yet worlds apart. When Les’s prize ram is diagnosed with a rare and lethal illness, authorities order a purge of every sheep in the valley. Colin attempts to stealthily outwit the powers that be, whilst Les runs at them headfirst. But can the warring brothers set aside their differences, and have a chance to reunite their family, save their herd, and bring together their community?
Australian audiences have the opportunity to see local talent on the big screen in this adaptation of the Icelandic film HRÚTAR. The original film has a deadpan Icelandic sense of humor that earned it good notices all around the world and a prize for the Un Certain Regard in Cannes in 2015. The film drew the notice of director Jeremy Sims whose LAST CAB TO DARWIN (also with Michael Caton) was doing the international festival circuit simultaneously. Sims considers the original to be an “arthouse gem” and the work he and Jules Duncan have done in the re-imagining of that work for Australia has been to expand the scope of the story and aim it at general audiences.
The casting of Sam Neill and Michael Caton is a good path to audience acceptance. Both actors have shone in a number of Australian films over the past forty years. And each has had real life experience raising sheep. Caton comes from a sheep farming family. Sam Neill is often seen on social media with sheep (and the rest of his menagerie) that he is raising on his New Zealand property. So both men had all the experience they needed to play brothers who know and understand the Kalgan Horn breed. The sheep is a fictionalised version of the actual Dorset Horn breed, supposedly specific to the Mount Barker region the film is set in.
The brothers Colin and Les Grimurson have continued a tradition of sheep farming that started with their grandfather. Somewhere along the way, they had a falling out and now, although they live directly next-door to each other, they never speak. This silence between them usually causes minor difficulties in daily living, but when Ovine Johne’s Disease (OJD) hits the sheep in the area, things get even worse for the siblings. Anything that happens to the sheep will affect their livelihood and also deal a blow to a family farming tradition going back for a century.
Family is at the heart of the tale and writer Jules Duncan has given this a particularly Australian comic twist. The story expansion from the original includes making more of the characters in town and focussing on the volunteer fire brigade. This is the first of Duncan’s feature film scripts that has gone into production.
The marketing of the film has pushed the idea of “Larrikin Aussie humour” but really this is a dramedy about how people can hurt their nearest and dearest and be too stubborn to fix the damage. There are funny moments and dramatic moments. The cinematography by Steve Arnold is absolutely beautiful. The shooting of the land has an almost physical impact on the viewer. The variety of landforms and seascapes bring us right into the story and the differences between the valley in winter and summer are stark.
The other amazing natural wonders are the woollen stars of the show. Viewers can be forgiven for thinking they are watching computer-generated animals, but apart from the occasional digital tweak, these were extremely well-trained sheep. The rest of the human cast is: Miranda Richardson, Wayne Blair, Asher Keddie, Leon Ford, Travis McMahon, Hayley McElhinney, Kipan Rothbury, Will McNeill and Asher Yasbincek.
RAMS is a well-mounted, atmospheric Australian film that runs for 115 minutes. (7/10)