Everyone is running from something and, typically, putting the past behind you is difficult if all your dirty laundry is out in the open. The concept of going somewhere where no one knows you and you can start over can be appealing, but it can also be just as isolating. That’s the paradox of one woman’s desperate attempt to stay sober in filmmaker Nora Fingscheidt‘s adaptation of the 2016 memoir, The Outrun, by Amy Liptrot.
Saoirse Ronan stars as Rona, first seen as a human wrecking ball, who refuses to be kicked out of a bar after it’s clear to everyone that she’s had far too many. The story flashes back and forth between her increasingly unstable relationship with Daynin (Paapa Essiedu) and her efforts to adjust to life back at home, splitting time between her bipolar father (Stephen Dillane) and her deeply religious mother (Saskia Reeves). She gets a job scouting Scotland for sounds of a rare and endangered bird, a task that fits the definition of boredom, but may just be what she needs to keep herself out of trouble.
The film’s title suggests that this is someone on the run from dangerous people or some other malicious entity. In fact,x she’s the real danger, and the flashes seen of her trying to tell Daynin to calm down and stop controlling her suggest just how bad things have been before he finally reaches a breaking point. Going in to beg someone to lock her up in a rehab facility indicates her desperation, and she feels the shame of her apparent reputation when she returns home and sees people from her past. Her father is a support but has his own issues to deal with, and her mother believes prayer can solve everything, something Rona knows not to be true.
Ronan is an exceptionally accomplished actress who, at just twenty-nine years old, has already been nominated for four Oscars. One of those, Brooklyn, debuted at Sundance, in 2015, the same year that Stockholm, Pennsylvania (in which Ronan also starred) premiered at the festival. Since her breakthrough role in Atonement, she has demonstrated extraordinary range, and this film is no exception. She excels at channeling Rona’s destructive fury and then tapping into her more subdued state as she begins her journey towards self-healing.
Fingscheidt first attracted attention for System Crasher in 2019, and following the Sandra Bullock starter The Unforgivable, she has demonstrated an ability to helm English-language films about women trying to find the best possible version of themselves. Fingscheidt and her star here seem to have a good rapport, and many of the scenes feature just Rona alone with her thoughts. While Rona does find some comfort in being away from the world and isn’t as compelled to make destructive decisions on her own, those moments on islands or off of islands aren’t exactly thrilling. There is a quietness to this film that may not have the same calming effect on audiences as it does on its protagonist, since there just isn’t that much that happens when Rona is on her own.
Ronan should prove a solid draw just by herself for this film to do well, and the orange hair featured in the primary promotional still for the film implies a true immersion into the character and a woman trying to find new ways to express herself. Ronan definitely impresses, and though she’s not that far removed from the start of her career, she’s proven herself to be capable of headlining a film on her name alone, which should be helpful given Fingscheidt’s less mainstream profile. Stories about people suffering and then improving themselves are always enticing, and this film is sure to find the right home where it can be properly appreciated.
Awards Potential: Unlikely
Box Office Potential: Depends on distribution
Overall Score: B
The Outrun just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, but has not been picked up for distribution, as of yet.
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Paapa Essiedu, Stephen Dillane, Saskia Reeves
Director: Nora Fingscheidt
Writers: Nora Fingscheidt, Amy Liptrot
Producers: Sarah Brocklehurst, Dominic Norris, Jack Lowden, Saoirse Ronan
DP: Yunus Roy Imer
Production Designer: Andy Drummond
Costume Designer: Grace Snell
Editor: Stephan Bechinger
Score by: John Gürtler, Jan Miserre