Rams is a superb comedy-drama directed by Jeremy Sims (Beneath Hill 60) and starring Sam Neill (Jurassic Park) and everyone’s favourite Aussie larrikin Michael Caton (The Castle). The film is based on Grimur Hakonarson’s Icelandic drama Rams (2015), which trades blizzards for bush fires and stays faithful to the original. Here in Australia, Rams pretty much went under most people’s radar last year because of the pandemic, but is certainly worthy of your time as I found out this week.
The plight of farmers often makes the news in Australia, generally it is associated with stories of floods, drought and hardship. Though occasionally, stories of hardship are punctuated by feel good stories of rural townsfolk rallying together. The picturesque settings of Rams is not too different what I would imagine how life would be for a sheep farmer in Western Australia. It is here that we first meet Colin (Sam Neil) whose love for his merino sheep is heartwarming as he tells them individually how beautiful they are. Though in every flock there is one sheep that stands heads and shoulders above the rest and that is Colin’s prized ram. Across, the paddock on the adjoining property separated by a shabby barbed wire fence, lives Colin’s brother Les (Michael Caton). Like Colin, he too has his own secret weapon, a ram equally brilliant in size, strength and virility.
Early on in the film the Grimurson brothers pit their prized rams against each other in a livestock judging contest in which Les’s ram wins out. It is here that we come to realise there’s more to their brotherly rivalry than meets the eye. The brothers haven’t spoken in forty years and the disintegration of their relationship is slowly revealed in clues throughout the film. But something more sinister is about to play out that is far bigger than bruised egos.
When Colin notices something wrong with Les’s ram, he enlists the help of Mount Barker’s veterinarian (played by Miranda Richardson) to identify the problem. Soon the livelihood of the whole Mount Barker community is thrown into disarray when its revealed that Les’s ram has Ovine Johne’s disease (OJD), an incurable and highly contagious illness.
This awful contagious disease sets in motion a mass cull of sheep by government authorities. In a handful of emotionally-charged scenes the brothers are left to deal with the fallout. Interestingly the divide between city slickers and farmers is masterfully illustrated in the arrival of an insensitive department of agriculture official who ridicules Colin to no end. Eventually while Les finds comfort in drinking himself into a stupor, Colin takes drastic action by hiding a very small number unaffected sheep in his farm house, with the help of his trusty border collie dog named Kip. It is here that the antics of Colin, Kip and his sheep gives us the best laughs as Colin tries to stay clear of the authorities. But unbeknown to Colin, Les is onto his brother’s scheme. In the end, the two must decide whether they will work together and salvage what is left of their livelihoods and relationship.
It goes without saying, Western Australia’s spectacular landscape plays an integral part in bringing this film to life. Its remoteness in particular adds to the feeling of hardship and loneliness farmers often feel. In short, it is an entertaining film that comes to a head in the exciting finale set against a bush fire that threatens to extinguish hope and the renewal of bonds.