Rams is released nationwide on 5th February 2021
There is risk in remaking any film that achieved critical acclaim; a risk further elevated when the film in question won the Un Certain Regard category at Cannes in 2015. But now and again a remake gets it right, honouring the original while finding a new distinct voice. Directed by Jeremy Sims, Rams is one of those rare movies. The themes of masculinity, rural isolation and community held in Grímur Hákonarson’s Icelandic original, intact, yet different in perspective. Meanwhile, Iceland’s sweeping vistas are replaced with the arid heat of Western Australia in a thoughtful, assured and engaging slice of Icelandic inspired Aussie drama.
Colin (Sam Neill) and Les (Michael Caton) are brothers and sheep farmers living on the same Western Australian farm in separate houses. However, their lives together are far from idyllic. In fact, the Grimuson brothers haven’t spoken for years; their lives wrapped up in conflict and competition as they rear Calvin Horn sheep; a breed not found anywhere else in the world. Their only communication with each other, handwritten messages delivered by their shared sheepdog.
However, as Les’ prize-winning ram is diagnosed with Ovine Johne’s Disease, the brothers shared, but separate lives are turned upside down. Their isolation invaded by government officials intent on stripping away their livelihood. With the resulting turmoil threatening the very fabric of the wider town economy. However, Colin has a plan that might save his years of work, but at what risk to everyone around him? Meanwhile, as quarantine exposes old family wounds, the brothers must ultimately decide to face their past in securing their future.
The pre-release advertising for Rams mistakenly suggests a simple knockabout comedy. However, in reality, Sim’s film is rooted in socially reflective drama. And just like the Icelandic original, themes of isolation, masculinity and communication sit at the heart of its message. But, in a year that has seen us all quarantined and separated, Rams also reflects the social upheaval of 2020. Its story of community division, virus, wildfire and economic hardship, leaping from the screen. With the resulting film speaking to our shared global experience of COVID 19. While at the same time, reflecting the effects of forced isolation on identity, worth, and belonging.
Much of the success of Rams comes from Neill and Caton’s assured central performances. Their nuanced take on family conflict, denial and competition ringing with authenticity. Meanwhile, a strong ensemble cast, including Miranda Richardson, Asher Keddie, Wayne Blair, and Will McNeill, only add to the strength of Jules Duncan’s screenplay. Also of note is Steve Arnold’s accomplished photography, where the vast open landscape of Western Australia is seen as both beautiful and formidable in equal measure.
Of course, as with any remake, there will be those who ask why? After all, the original surely covered similar ground and carried similar meaning. For me, Grímur Hákonarson’s original remains my prefered choice. However, that does not mean Sim’s version is any less skilful. And in providing us with a new cultural perspective on an award-winning story, this film is far more than a mere copy; it is a richly textured comedy/drama bathed in love and care. Only time will tell whether Sims remake will earn similar adoration to that of the original, but as remakes go, this is one of the best you will find.
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