Year: 2020
Production Co: WBMC
Director: Jeremy Sims
Writer: Jules Duncan
Cast: Sam Neill, Michael Caton, Miranda Richardson, Asher Keddie

I was completely unprepared for what this movie turned out to be and completely taken in by it, perhaps after how low my expectations were. What I expected was what the poster seemed to promise – an effort at a side splitting, odd couple-style comedy of hijinks and banter between rival brothers Colin (Sam Neill) and Les (Michael Caton), sheep farmers who own and work adjacent properties.

Though billed as a comedy (and containing some wry moments), it's decidedly not the bickering-turning-to-understanding through a series of funny set pieces you're ready for.

That's probably got more to do with the Icelandic 2015 film of the same name by Grímur Hákonarson than screenwriter Jules Duncan – I haven't seen it but the IMDb doesn't list that as a comedy at all.

But even with what was probably an effort to inject a bit of light heartedness it's still a very serious and at times dark film despite some laughs and a well-situated sense of camaraderie and even romance.

Colin and Les hate each other – as the film opens Colin loses an award to Les at the local agricultural show, but he's stoic and tries to get on with his life.

However, alongside a possible romance blossoming with the local vet, Kat (Miranda Richardson) comes bad news with the possibility of a rare disease found among Colin's flock, both his and Les' sheep descended from a long and proud family line going back centuries.

The news couldn't be worse – the infection is found, and agricultural authorities order the entire sheep population of the valley slaughtered to contain the virus.

Les pulls a gun on the cops when they come for his sheep, but Colin is wilier, remodelling his house in order to hide his prize ram and a couple of ewes until the dust settles and he can start breeding again.

Things go from bad to worse in the valley, with a bushfire raging nearby and Colin's friends in town suffering the downturn because of the death of the sheep farming industry overnight.

And the ongoing feud with Les isn't helping, one that occasionally turns violent. Sometimes he shows up drunk in the night, ranting and raving and firing shotgun rounds through Colin's walls.

Sometimes he passes out drunk in the fields and leaves Colin and his friends to pick up the pieces (including one amusing sequence of him carrying Les all the way to hospital in an earthmover, depositing him at the front door by tipping him out of the bucket).

The banter you expect doesn't happen at all – the pair don't even speak until about three quarters of the way through, and when they find their places in their relationship it's not with some grand emotional understanding or soulful corner turned but a crisis and a barely acknowledged nod with the words 'righto'.

The story is more about their relationships with the townspeople, but they're no less what I saw described in one review as real, lived-in characters, far from the comic foil you expect.

Such realism is ironic considering Sam Neill can be such a ham (and he edges into that territory here plenty of times) as he has the lion's share of screen time, but a few genuine laughs and some moments of quite profound sadness make it a far more emotional and rewarding watch than you're ready for.

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