Rams review: a spacey and inferior remake of an Icelandic classic
Remember Cain and Abel? First two sons of Adam and Eve. Cain was the farmer and Abel the shepherd; Cain ended up murdering Abel because God preferred his sacrifice to Cain’s. All got quite messy. Family stuff.
This film rakes over similar territory: two brothers who love to hate each other have it out. Sam Neill plays Colin, a sexy salt-of-earth hat-wearer in rural Australia who lives within spitting distance of his brother Les (Michael Caton). The lads are in the same trade: ram-rearing. Their sheep are better than all the other sheep in the valley – it’s all in the leg muscle and wool mass, apparently – but the brothers don’t speak. Haven’t for 40 years. Don’t ask why (the film doesn’t bother to answer).
As in many families, the brothers rub along well enough, despite hating each others’ guts. While they may not actually chat, they have the same friends and spend their time in much the same way: those rams won’t rear themselves. Yet soon, the agreeable peace of their lives is given an almighty shock when Colin realises that one of his sheep is infected with a deadly disease. And if his ram is sick, chances are that Abel’s – sorry, Les’s – are too.
The film explores how these two monosyllabic men cope when the dreaded Australian agri-authorities descend, Swat-style, to deal with the outbreak. It’ll make you feel nostalgic for a Britain that might have handled coronavirus with a similar kind of no-nonsense, nostril-swabbing ferocity. Les attacks the cops when they arrive to round up his sheep, before falling to his knees on the scrubby Australian earth and begging them not to cull his beloved sheeple. Colin, meanwhile, the primmer and more sane of the brothers, stiffens his lip at the bio-calamity that’s befallen, and shoots his sick sheep with a big gun. A twist later in the film reveals that the two brothers might not be so different in their coping mechanisms.
The film is a remake of a magnificent Icelandic film, which won a major prize at Cannes in 2015. The story line in the Australian reboot is much more accessorised – there are a few half-attractive young people in this 2021 tale, as if the filmmakers weren’t convinced that audiences could be drawn in by two old guys lacing their manly boots and biting their thumbs at one another. It’s a shame; the film would have been far better pared down to the tale’s Old Testament core. The original, directed by Grimur Hakonarson, is immeasurably better: lonelier, dreamier and more moving.
There’s something slightly unconvincing about the central performances, too. IRL (in real life), Sam Neill is quite outdoorsy – he owns a vineyard in New Zealand that makes genuinely good wine – but when he bathes and pets his beloved sheep, not a part of me believed he cared. Caton is no better; not by fault of his performance but really because the character hasn’t been given enough depth. He stumps around in a state of high dudgeon, drinking too much and grunting expressively. The highlight of Les’s journey in this film, for me at least, is after the deadly outbreak has been discovered, and he turns up at a friend’s house for a bit of company. There’s a buffet, and Les reaches for a scone, smears it in jam, gets to the cream bowl and realises it’s empty. Nightmare.
This isn’t a terrible film. But it’s just quite boring. Much less happened in the Icelandic version, and yet it had twice the power. The pacing here is oddly slack – the jokes not quite funny enough, the countryside not quite remote enough and the baddies not quite irritating enough. Miranda Richardson brightens things up a tad, but largely because her hair is a badly-dyed shade of cherry. She plays a concerned vet, who fancies Sam Neill (fair enough) but still betrays him in the blink of an eye when he shows her his dark side.
Watch Rams, do. Just not this version.
Rams (Cert 12, 119mins) will be on Digital Platforms on 5th February
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