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‘Rams’ review: Funny and thoughtful in equal measure

There’s a real emotional depth to Aussie film Rams – and Sam Neill is certainly at home among the livestock

Sam Neill is on a one-man mission to make social media a better place. The Kiwi actor is always posting heartwarming updates about the various chooks, pigs and other animals that roam around his Two Paddocks vineyards in New Zealand. So it seems appropriate to see him as a rough-around-the-edges sheep farmer in Rams, a film set in rural Oz.

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Neill’s gruff Col has been feuding with his choleric brother Les (a whiskery Michael Caton) for four decades, despite the fact they live side by side on the family farmland.

At first glance, it looks like Rams might play out as the broadest of rural comedies: we are introduced to the Grimurson brothers as they warily pit their prize rams against each other in an annual competition that involves assessing thick fleeces and shiny horns.

But while there are moments of raunchy verbal wit and the occasional bit of physical humour, Rams slowly reveals itself to be a surprisingly thoughtful character study, deeply invested in exploring ideas of old-fashioned masculinity, self-imposed loneliness and the emotional rigours of raising livestock.

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You expect to emit a little chuckle when you see a sheep’s testicles get an appraising and genuinely loving squeeze from a calloused hand; you are perhaps less prepared for the emotional wrench when there is talk of culling all the local herds to head off a virulent outbreak.

Based on a critically acclaimed Icelandic film from 2015, this is a remake that honours the original while finding some intriguing resonances in its new setting. The great Miranda Richardson co-stars as a purple-haired pommy vet alternately intrigued and rebuffed by Neill’s cranky charm, and it would have been nice to give her a little more material to work with in the leisurely two-hour running time: she seems to vanish for long sections of the film.

But this is mostly a showcase for Neill as a man who seems more at ease chatting to his woolly charges than other people, and the once-and-future Jurassic Park star tamps down his natural charisma to just find the right wary tenor for the taciturn Col.

Four stars out of five

Rams is on VOD from February 5

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