In 2015, filmmaker Grímur Hákonarson wrote and directed the acclaimed drama Hrútar (Rams) which subsequently won the Prix Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival and, the following year, was voted by online newspaper Kjarninn as the second-greatest Icelandic film of all time. It’s a beautiful and tender film full of heart, and one that certainly never needed a remake. Director Jeremy Sims and writer Jules Duncan evidently didn’t agree.
This Australian remake of the same name is certainly faithful to the original film’s premise and narrative beats – estranged sheep-farming brothers Colin (Sam Neill) and Les (Michael Caton) are at war, raising separate flocks and competing in competitions with their prized rams. When a rare and lethal illness strikes the area’s sheep, Colin attempts to outwit the powers that be while Les opts for angry, drunken defiance. But ultimately, these brothers must find common ground and work together to save their herd and bring their fractured community back together before it is too late.
Unfortunately somewhat lacking in the affecting and involving power of the original film, this Rams pales in comparison. While it does certainly have some sweet moments – Sam Neill’s Colin tenderly telling his flock how beautiful they are certainly warms the heart – the film struggles to develop its characters enough for us to be invested in their battles. A strange criticism, when you consider this remake inexplicably adds 30 minutes to the original’s runtime, reaching a sluggish two hours that often grinds to a halt in pacing with drawn out and repetitive sequences. The extra time is wasted, failing to offer any extra insight into the characters or their plight and instead taking away from the film considerably.
Sam Neill is brilliant, offering a charmingly grumpy performance that feels like the sum of his last few years’ worth of grizzled characters. He is, as always, a delight. Michael Caton is also worthy of praise as the drunken and volatile Les, and the surprisingly few scenes the characters share together shows a wonderful chemistry. Supporting characters and their subplots are strangely underdeveloped and rushed, with Miranda Richardson surprisingly wasted as the local vet. But there are certainly moments of sweetness and heart littered throughout the filler, but sadly they are seldom given enough chance to grow.
The film looks absolutely stunning, with the beautiful cinematography of Steve Arnold making a character out of the gorgeous area of Western Australia’s Great Southern Region where the film was shot – and it is the film’s visuals that linger in the mind after the credits roll, along with the brilliant two lead performances. But the film also leaves the viewer with an unshakeable feeling of disappointment, especially for those familiar with the vastly superior original Rams. It’s an enjoyable enough watch, but one that feels entirely superfluous, forgettable and often empty.
Rams is full of striking visuals and great performances from Sam Neill and Michael Caton, but unfortunately fails to justify its own existence by failing to match the quality of the original film.