Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | February 5th, 2021
Rams (Jeremy Sims, 2020) 3 out of 4 stars.
In the 2015 Icelandic film Rams, two estranged brothers are forced to consider the cost of their decades-long feud when both are required by law to euthanize their entire flocks of sheep because of an outbreak of scrapie. Set in a valley nestled between forbidding peaks, the film follows the escalating moral conflict as each man weighs what fate hath wrought, struggling to hold onto some semblance of personal agency in a world arrayed against them. Existentially bleak, Rams, from director Grímur Hákonarson (The County), was not without its moments of dry humor as it explored the small details of life that lead to big consequences. Simple, yet profound, the movie explored the sometimes mystifying conundrum of the human spirit.
Now comes an Australian version, also entitled Rams, telling the same story in a new location. Sam Neill (Hunt for the Wilderpeople) and Michael Caton (Last Cab to Darwin) star as the brothers, Colin and Les, and though the sheep may be of different stock down under, the concerns are similar. This time, it’s Ovine Johne’s disease that threatens the flocks, to no different effect. After an opening that carefully establishes the characters and their dilemma, we proceed to the unfolding drama and its aftermath. Crafted with care, this remake manages to be both respectful of the original and its own unique thing.
It also insists on a happier ending, even as it hews otherwise close to the source material. It’s too bad, as it has the chance to conclude on an equally moving, if stark, image of the brother’s reconciliation-through-crisis, yet tacks on an additional – and completely unbelievable – coda. Before then, director Jeremy Sims (Wayne) does himself proud, deftly giving the yarn an Aussie spin, complete with slightly broader comedy, that mostly works, even adding a knowing in-joke via the brothers’ last name: Grimurson. They are, in other words, sons of the first film’s director. Clever.
Sims also does a fine job creating his own special community of sheep breeders, all proud of their heritage and terrified of what the future holds once the illness takes over. Whereas Rams 1.0 took place in a frigid northern climate, with snow ever close, version 2.0 gives us wildfires, Australia’s increasingly fragile ecosystems part of the backstory. We therefore have both physical and mental Sturm und Drang, all ably performed by the leads and the large ensemble, including Miranda Richardson (Churchill) as the local veterinarian. Despite its unfortunate feel-good final scenes, this Rams bleats a solid cinematic tune.