This casually wonderful Australian adaptation of a 2015 Icelandic film is an utter joy from start to finish, and proves a splendid vehicle for Kiwi national treasure Sam Neill's delightfully weathered charms.
Neill and The Castle's Michael Caton star as Colin and Les, brothers living on adjoining farms who haven't spoken in forty years due to grievances both would struggle to articulate or even remember.
They each raise stud rams descended from their prized family stock, and although Colin is the more even-headed of the two, the alcoholic Les usually gets the blue ribbon at the annual show in their small Western Australia farming community.
When an ovine disease is detected in some sheep, the Department of Agriculture forces everyone in the valley to cull their flocks, but Colin secretly (illegally) keeps a few alive to preserve the precious bloodline. The challenge then becomes trying to hide this from his brother and the local vet (Blackadder's Miranda Richardson).
Rams' title and poster might suggest a broad comedy, but this a slow burn character study with understated humour. It gains much from how it takes its time telling the story, and although most of the conflict remains unspoken, the dynamics are crystal clear, and all too relatable for anyone with siblings. Indeed, the fraternal strife here beneficially evokes David Lynch's 1999 film The Straight Story, a similarly austere and affecting film.
Somehow, Neill seems to be getting better with age, and his endearingly low-key presence makes this film. Caton and Richardson have far less to do, but both help ground the story, as does the sparsely-deployed supporting cast, especially Leon Ford as a hilariously clueless government man.
It may be painful to admit - and apologies to the 2006 New Zealand horror comedy Black Sheep - but Australia appears to be responsible for the best sheep-centric film ever made. At least there's a Kiwi in the lead.
Cast: Sam Neill, Miranda Richardson, Michael Caton
Director: Jeremy Sims
Running time:119 minutes
Rating: PG (Violence & coarse language)
Verdict: Sam Neill's superlatively charming screen presence drives a modern ocker classic.