The Outrun; Saoirse Ronan’s detailed performance as a recovering addict may be her finest yet: Sydney Film Festival Review

A character losing themself to nature in order to find solitude or correct the course of their life is not a road seldom travelled on screen.  And in the case of The Outrun, it’s the windswept Orkney Islands off the northeastern coast of Scotland that serve as a place of rejuvenation for Rona (Saoirse Ronan, as sublime as you’d expect), a recovering alcoholic who hopes the desolate temperament of her surroundings will assist in her sobriety.

Based on the bestselling memoir by Amy Liptrot, The Outrun shifts between separate timelines, tracking Rona from her alcoholic-fuelled past to her reawakened present.  As a biology grad student, we see her indulge in the love of her friends and partner, but continually burn each relationship with her addiction, altering moments of merriment to something more tragic and unpredictable.  In the current day, she’s a quieter version of herself, surrendering to the tranquil nature of the retreat she sends herself off to after a stint in a rehabilitation centre.

Quiet she may be, she hasn’t lost any of her spark.  Her mother (Saskia Reeves) still bares the brunt of Rona’s frustrations, with Rona unable to hold back her disapproval of her mother’s belief in prayer.  Around her father (Stephen Dillane) she’s livelier, but his bipolar disorder continually keeps Rona on guard.  Ronan’s performance is one rooted in truth, and she’s deeply sympathetic to Rona’s plight, which helps sell her character’s dramatic inclinations.  This pain is never sensationalised, and it’s because we can see the good in her that we stay beside her, even as she continually makes mistakes.

Perhaps under different direction and with an alternate actress at the core, The Outrun could have made way for overtly empowering speeches and tearful reconciliations.  The Oscar bait moment, if you will.  But with Ronan and director Nora Fingscheidt (who has helmed the acclaimed German drama System Crasher and the Sandra Bullock Netflix offering The Unforgivable prior) such melodramatic tendencies never show.  This film believes in the quieter, more intimate cadences of how life actually unfolds.  Fingscheidt isn’t reinventing the dramatic wheel, but she steers it with an honesty, treating its subject of recovery with a soulfulness that people battling such should find nourishing.

As hopeful as the film is, the fact that it doesn’t ask us to sympathise with Rona makes it all the better.  Yes, we want her to succeed and find the peace and purpose she deserves, but The Outrun never asks us to excuse her behaviour, which isn’t always the easiest ploy to execute with a presence such as Ronan on hand.  In a career that already consists of so many grand, beautiful performances, The Outrun could be her best yet, as she effortlessly toes the line between someone who hones a violent disregard for their own being, a shameless victim, and utilising her obvious intellect to genuinely make a difference in the world.


The Outrun is screening as part of this year’s Sydney Film Festival, running between June 5th and 16th, 2024.  For more information head to the official SFF page.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.