In 2016, Icelandic online newspaper Kjarninn voted Rams, released only the year before, as the second greatest film their country had ever produced. I doubt the same will be happening in Australia for this remake.
Writer Jules Duncan and Director Jeremy Sims faithfully transplant Grímur Hákonarson’s film to Western Australia, making appropriate contextual changes (the climatic snowstorm becomes a wildfire, for instance) but otherwise preserving both the plot and the serio-comic tone of the story of brothers Colin (Sam Neill) and Les (Michael Caton), neighbouring sheep farmers who have barely spoken in years. When a disease is identified in one flock, authorities determine that all the sheep in the valley where Colin and Les live, including those of their friends and neighbours, must be destroyed. Colin, after killing his own flock before it could be done for him, hides a few of them away, hoping to preserve the rare breed he farms.
Sam Neill is enjoying something of a late career high, at least in terms of the reception of his work in the US and UK, and Rams is a fine example of why. He made his name beyond Australia with Jurassic Park, and in some ways I see the same combination of ingredients in his performance as Colin. There is the same sort of grumpy spikiness— those spikes sharpened over 30 years— but also the same cracks in the armour. Those cracks are shown mostly by Colin’s sheep, which he loves like children, telling them how great and how beautiful they are, and by Miranda Richardson, whose British vet sometimes threatens to become a love interest. The monosyllabic relationship between Colin and Les provides a few dry laughs, but it’s also credibly played by Neill and Caton, whose Les has an even tougher shell than his brother, augmented by his alcoholism. The two actors play off each other well and with seeming enjoyment of the process, with the slowly progressing changes in their relationship playing believably.
Another thing Duncan and Sims capture well, if briefly, is the impact on the wider community of the cull. We hear about people moving away or, to the derision of some of the group, changing which breed they farm. This is colourfully captured in a scene with some of farmers discussing the situation over drinks.
As with many remakes, it is inevitable that Rams will be compared to its source. The screenplay adapts well to the new setting, but at times it’s so faithful as to feel, whatever its other qualities, rather redundant, and adding almost 30 minutes to the running time doesn’t do much other than slow the pace down, sometimes to a crawl. If there’s a place where fat could have been trimmed it’s in Miranda Richardson’s role, she’s somewhat underused anyway, and while she’s fine in the role, it doesn’t really lead anywhere. Rams is certainly an enjoyable watch, and Neill and Caton’s performances are worth seeing on their own, but ultimately I’d recommend the original over this version.
Rams will be released on the 5th of February, 2021.