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VOD Review: Rams

February 5, 2021

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

An Australian remake of director Grímur Hákonarson’s 2015 Icelandic film of the same name, which was a hit on the festival circuit, Rams follows two estranged brothers known for their prize-winning sheep.

Colin (Sam Neil) and Les (Michael Caton) live in separate houses on the same farm in Western Australia that was left to them by their father. They have barely spoken to each other in years, but are breeding separate flocks of sheep that are descended from the same prized bloodline, and compete against each other in a local competition to judge who has the best ram.

It’s mostly fun and games, until one of the prize rams is diagnosed with Ovine Johne’s Disease (OJD), an incredibly rare bacterial sickness. The Australian government steps in, ordering that not only their entire flock but also all of the sheep in the valley must be culled in order to stop this highly contagious disease from spreading. Colin and Les both become defiant in their own unique ways, as they try to circumvent government orders and protect their livelihoods.

This new version of the story is directed by Jeremy Sims, who previously made the solid drama Last Cab to Darwin, which Michael Caton incidentally also starred in. Sims and screenwriter Jules Duncan inject some broad humour into the proceedings, and Rams struggles to find the right tone at times, starting off as more of a quirky, lighthearted comedy before turning quite dark. It’s a tonal switch that I think could have been handled better.

The film’s main villainous figure, a buffoonish, rule-bound bureaucrat from the Agriculture Department (Leon Ford), is also presented in a comical way, and this characterization didn’t quite mesh for me. The film also feels a bit long at two hours. With that said, I haven’t seen the original Icelandic film, so I can’t say how this one compares to it. I imagine the plots are mostly the same, though Sims and Duncan do give their version a unique Australian identity. This includes a subplot involving ongoing wildfires, with Colin and Les serving on the volunteer fire department.

The film also works in a possible romantic subplot between Colin and local veterinarian Kat (Miranda Richardson). There are some more nicely handled character moments along the way, and it’s carried by a pair of good performances from Neil and Caton. Neil does a fine job portraying a gruff farmer, and Caton is especially good in the role of his falling apart, alcoholic brother. While the balance between comedy and drama isn’t quite as smooth as it could have been, Rams is ultimately pretty good, that is at its best when offering low-key observations on the farming life.

Rams is now available to watch on Digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by Vortex Media.

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