Saoirse Ronan is known for her performances. She’s the kind of actress who can take a bad movie and elevate it (looking at you Foe). The Irish native doesn’t need to do that with her latest project and Sundance standout, The Outrun. The second English language feature from German director Nora Fingscheidt was based on Amy Liptrot’s book of the same name and co-written by both of them. Part addiction biopic and nature narrative, the team-up between these three women takes something that should feel boring or emotionally laborious and turns it into a moving story of survival.
With ambitious editing by Stephan Bechinger, The Outrun jumps before and after Rona’s (Ronan) rock bottom. Cutting between her time in London where her drinking became out of control and her life as a conservationist in the Scottish Orkney Islands, Rona’s life is mixed between before and afters stemming from childhood trauma at the hands of her father (Stephen Dillane).
As she comes back to restart her life sober, she struggles with her mother’s (Saskia Reeves) relationship with God and her father’s mental illness. Her time in London getting her Masters in Biology is marked by her seemingly healthy relationship with Daynin (Paapa Essiedu) which crumbles as her dependence on drinking increases. At times the editing is slightly confusing, as it takes a minute to establish if we are in the present or past. I kept telling colleagues that I believe a better story starting point would have been when she heads to a remote island for work after relapsing with everything else in flashback.
Normally, I believe voiceover is rarely called for. However, Ronan’s narration and the writing provided by Liptrot and Fingscheidt, give a grounding connection to the nature around Rona. The Orkney Islands become another character in the story through this device. It’s ironically sobering to Rona’s reality of dealing with her alcohol addiction
Ronan is at the heart of The Outrun. She disappears in the role. In the last few years, she’s proven her range in grounded work such as Ammonite and On Chesil Beach and in zanier projects like See How They Run and The French Dispatch. As Rona, she has never been more raw and vulnerable. From the anguish in her eyes to her drunken giggle, Ronan packs her performance with purpose and emotion. While the script and Fingscheudt’s direction packs a punch, it’s Ronan you can’t look away from.