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The Outrun Film Review: A Whirlwind of a Journey

A white girl and a black boy have their heads close together while dancing in the film The Outrun

In Nora Fingscheidt’s stormy addiction drama The Outrun, Saoirse Ronan once again proves she’s an acting force to be reckoned with.

The Outrun adds to a saturated landscape of films confronting the adversities and private trials of alcoholism and substance addiction, but it firmly roots itself in that landscape with a memorable voice, towering over its competition. 

Saoirse Ronan embodies a young Scottish woman, Rona, at the mercy of her alcohol dependence and inner demons, which haunt her journey to sobriety every step of the way. After visiting her family, she decides to remain at home in the beautiful wilderness of the Orkney Islands, longing for recovery and unity within all parts of herself, as shameful and damaging as some of them have been. Through a series of vignettes, The Outrun exhibits the nonlinear nature of healing and the immense strength we harbor within ourselves to survive our vices.

Writer-director Nora Fingscheidt and Amy Liptrot, who wrote the bestselling memoir from which the film is adapted, approach Rona’s character with alertness and with emphasis on the complexity of the sobriety journey, and the internal back-and-forths that take place during that journey. 

There are’s the all-present moral back-and-forth of being fully aware of the harm in alcoholism but never escaping the need to seek immediate solace in it. The film addresses the hardest truths, focusing on Rona’s inability to find happiness while being sober. We understand what alcohol gave her instead of her consistently displaying the clichéd front of “wanting to be better,” because it’s never as straightforward. We’re able to distinguish the various stages of her journey through visual cues when jumping between different timelines. Changes in Rona’s hair color are cleverly attached to the stages of her constant battle with herself.

Saoirse Ronan looks at the horizon in the film The Outrun
A still from The Outrun, now at the 2024 Berlin Film Festival. (Studiocanal / Berlinale)

Due to its memoir-inspired style, The Outrun makes use of abstractly narrated intermissions between scenes that strongly feel plucked out of the book itself. It’s hard to pinpoint their purpose in the larger objective other than being impressively written passages already existing in the source material, with thoughtful metaphors and analogies sprinkled throughout. Many of the narrations boil down to documentary-style delivery of scientific and biological facts: informative, sure, but debatable in their necessity. At times, they feel detached from what’s happening on screen, but I suppose they are a timeline of their own.

The tropes that plague the genre are quite difficult to avoid. The beats of all addiction dramas parallel each other not because they aren’t truthful but because they’ve been done enough times to lose audience response. Fingscheidt’s film manages to largely stray away from them with sporadic slip-ups, particularly in the portrayal of alcohol’s allurement and the bits of generic melodramatic dialogue in some of the couple scenes.

The technical execution of The Outrun is fantastic, visually striking, thanks to its gorgeous lighting and the breathtaking landscape of the Orkney Islands. The camera has an immediate personality that tells you extensive stories about the protagonist without the need to speak. Perhaps the strongest muscle of the film is the score and the sound design, which are powerfully layered and emotional. Perhaps its weakest muscle is the occasionally disorienting editing of the different jumpy timelines.

Saoirse Ronan adds yet another practically perfect performance to her arsenal, next to her remarkable works in titles like Lady Bird, Brooklyn, and Little Women. However, even though the film wouldn’t function without Ronan’s commitment and sensitivity to the work required here, the filmmaking and direction by Nora Fingscheidt take the lead for me as to what makes The Outrun such an abundant experience.

The Outrun Trailer (Studiocanal)

Everything wraps together in an exceptionally powerful montage that truly makes the film’s last breaths count. Rona serves as a vessel to translate the surging force of our humanity, superimposed on top of the intensity of nature, and how the two are all and the same, being conducted through each other.

The Outrun is a painful meditation on finding yourself in the most unexpected of places (in this case, the remote Scottish countryside), and discovering the you that’s been hiding in there all along, as the ending montage magnificently conveys.

“It never gets easy. It just gets less hard.”

The Outrun premiered at the 2024 Berlin Film Festival and will be released in UK & Irish cinemas on September 27, 2024. Read our Berlin Film Festival reviews!

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