Review: Head-butting, estranged sheep-farming brothers must unlock their horns in ‘Rams’
The gentle Australian comedy “Rams,” a remake of the highly regarded Icelandic submission to the 2016 Oscars, winningly puts viewers in the worn boots of stubborn sheep farmers — and in the company of elderly brothers who can’t stop butting heads.
Colin (Sam Neill) is a kind fellow who greets his beloved flock each morning with a smiling “You’re beautiful … and you’re beautiful.” He’s respected in his close-knit, Western Australian sheep-farming community; he’s shyly warming up to local vet Kat (Miranda Richardson). He lives next door to an irascible, often drunk, but similarly competent farmer, Les (Michael Caton), whose prize rams are every bit as good as Colin’s and to whom he hasn’t spoken in 40 years. The two are, of course, brothers.
When a contagious disease is detected among some sheep, the government orders all the herds destroyed. The community’s despair is palpable. Colin not only has a warm personal connection to his animals but raising that idiosyncratic breed is also a part of his family’s history. Nudged over the edge by the phone-scrolling insensitivity of the government’s representative (perfectly cast Leon Ford), viewers will land firmly on Colin’s side, even as he dangerously decides to pull the wool over the authorities’ eyes.
Yes, the film is about sheep — you’ll likely learn more about them than you ever expected — but the brothers are clearly the titular “Rams.” Though Colin is warm-hearted, he’s as stubborn as loose-cannon Les.
American audiences may not be familiar with Caton (his most prominent stateside release may be the Rob Schneider comedy “The Animal”), but he’s a respected, award-winning veteran of some 40 years on Aussie screens. Neill has graduated to something like national-treasure status in Australia and New Zealand. He’s now one of those guys who, when he pops up, one thinks, “Oh, good, it’s Sam Neill.” That you automatically root for him serves him well here. It’s a settled and sympathetic performance that fits nicely among his other, recent, memorable turns (think of his excellent work in “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”).
The world of “Rams” is established in detailed, incidental authenticity by director Jeremy Sims (who directed Caton’s award-winning performance in “Last Cab to Darwin”) and his team. The brothers’ old-but-functional facilities feel lived in. The other farmers are well cast and comfortably written. When they have to kill their animals because of the disease, we feel their sadness (and are attuned to their economic pain in the face of an outbreak). Despite moments of farce, the film’s humor is low-key throughout — as when Colin perks up to hear Kat was just thinking of him, only to find it’s because of a book on fecal samples he had lent her.
“Rams” isn’t earth-shattering, but real-feeling and engaging, with a strong cast and fine sheep and a good dog.
Rated: PG-13 for language
Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Virtual Cinema; available Feb. 5, digital and VOD
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