Back in 2015, Icelandic director Grímur Hákonarson won the Prix Un Certain Regard with his film Rams, which impressed critics with its dry humour, raw emotion and arresting visuals. It tells the story of two grizzled brothers who are estranged yet share a family farm. Borderline hermits, they dedicate themselves to their prize-winning sheep, obsessing over their nutrition and form. However, their lonely passion is thwarted when a pandemic ravages their livestock, leaving them no choice but to slaughter the animals they live for.
As with so many successful foreign language films, an English remake was on the cards. Australian screenwriter Jules Duncan has adapted this latest example, with fellow countryman Jeremy Sins serving as director. Duncan’s script is a ‘reimagining’ of Hákonarson’s film, following the same major plot points of two brothers, Colin (Sam Neil) and Les (Michael Caton), having their lives overturned by Ovine Johne’s Disease (OJD), an incurable infection that condemns their entire flocks.
The nuts and bolts of the story are the same, so why is this new film some 20 minutes longer? Is it the good stuff like character development, narrative depth and comedic set pieces? I’m afraid the answer is no. Instead, the running time is padded with flat mediocrity. It takes the trappings of an interesting premise and dawdles from scene to scene, showing little in the way of humour or pathos.
This could have been an earthy, Aussie juxtaposition to the original’s dour Nordic charm. But when Rams isn’t being outright dull, it just has this safe aesthetic that casts a middling sheen over its moments of boozing, gunfire and bogan behaviour.
The performances are a saving grace, with particularly naturalistic turns from Neill, Caton and Miranda Richardson, who plays Kat the ‘Pommy vet’. Less naturalistic is Leon Ford in the role of De Vries, a government stooge who has been caricatured to solicit maximum disdain from the audience.
He is the proverbial urban bureaucrat who lives for policy and cannot deal with anything that deviates from it. Spontaneity confuses his little mind nearly as much as the townsfolk of Mount Baker, whom he speaks to in a patronising and facetious manner. It’s an enjoyable caricature. But it is just that, a caricature.
Then there’s the predictability of it all. With a virus killing their sheep, forest fires ravaging their land, and bureaucrats knocking at their doors, do you think the estranged brothers will finally come together? Hmm, I wonder. Rams may delight a senior matinee audience, but for everyone else it will lack all edge.
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