Set and filmed in rural Australia (Mount Barker), with a budget assuredly less than the catering allowance on the latest Jurassic Park movie, Sam Neill‘s next project.
Two brothers “Colin” (Sam Neill) & “Les” (Michael Caton) compete for top honours at the local agricultural show with their prized rams. The brothers have not spoken for forty years, despite living on separate farms located mere metres apart.
Both characters are obstinate, stubborn, true “Aussie Blokes”, much is said with a look or grunt. Dialogue is not extensive and sharing feelings and troubles not high on the agenda.
When tragedy strikes with an outbreak of OJD (Ovine Johne’s Disease), the brothers and various families located in the same valley stand to lose everything, including their prized flock bloodline.
The story is set against the backdrop of the catastrophic bush fires befalling Australia in 2019/20 and the fire set scenes, whether real or simulated, prove very effective. With no help arriving from elsewhere they help themselves, young and old alike.
Neil and Caton can play grumpy, stubborn older monosyllabic men roles in their sleep, but add real pathos and depth to what could have been crude caricatures. Neil takes centre stage, getting better and better with “increasing maturity”. Caton is brave in his depiction of a man out of ideas in a world that has moved on.
Clearly no budget was spent on hairdressing or costumes for either main character, entirely in keeping with the “just get a wriggle on, she’ll be right” rural setting.
The two main protagonists are joined by a talented cast, who fill out the neighborhood vet and local’s roles, including Miranda Richardson, Asher Keddie and Wayne Blair who always makes an impression however small the role.
The subject matter is treated with due respect and whilst comedy is present, it is of the blackest shade amidst the complex and occasionally dangerous unfolding sibling drama.
The film does not stint on the impact such an event would have on a small close-knit community, including the mental health and relocation repercussions such news generates.
Naturally a cartoon villain is required to generate tension, cue faceless bureaucracy displaying no hint of empathy or understanding. This unenviable role is played for comedic effect by Leon Ford but largely creates a caricature, far removed from likely reality.
Richardson is somewhat underused although her story arc stubbornly fails to follow the usual Hollywood path. However her character gets a decent last act unlike Ford, whose story-line gets abruptly dropped following a garden implement interface.
There is humour to lighten the mood, including an amusing Neil underwear shower scene, but the tone for the large part skews serious. Underlined by deeply affecting and unexpected closing scenes, albeit lightened in the final reel to send the audience home happy.
The film is based on an Icelandic film “Hrútar” by Grímur Hákonarson transplanting the action to the Southern Hemisphere,
Ultimately uplifting dramedy about the “lucky country” populated by people who keep rural towns alive, with family bonds ultimately proving their worth when that luck begins to run out.
A solid movie and good excuse to support your local cinema.
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