|Screenplay By||Andrew Pagana
|Date Released (Video On Demand)||June 20, 2023|
|Content Rating||1 hr, 40 mins|
|Moses Washington||Letitia Wright|
|Tommy Walsh||Jamie Bell|
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“Surrounded” takes place five years after the Civil War in the wild west, a place with endless possibilities where no one can trust anyone. Moses Washington (Letitia Wright) is a freedwoman who keeps her head down to avoid trouble with any passing stranger. But Mo is fierce, skilled with a gun, and knows what it takes to survive on her own. When her stagecoach is ambushed by a gang of outlaws, Mo knows better than anyone else on that stagecoach what she has to do to keep herself alive.
“Surrounded” is a brutal western, a cautionary yet fascinating tale about a time when people’s throats could be slit, and their bodies would never be found. The film utilizes gorgeous and vast open landscapes to emphasize that Mo is alone, and while the solo journey is dangerous, meeting someone else can be far more deadly. While Mo accompanies strangers in her stagecoach, a large shootout leaves most of those strangers and thieves dead. Yet one particular outlaw that survives is Tommy Walsh (Jamie Bell), a cunning and ruthless individual who will do whatever’s necessary to stay alive. The few remaining members of Mo’s stagecoach team ask Mo to keep a watch on Tommy while they seek help.
The relationship that builds between Mo and Tommy Walsh is soulful, volatile, and often heartbreaking. While the two come from vastly different backgrounds, they are kindred spirits who have suffered unmeasurable grief and seek a better life. They see the hurt in each other and the desperate desire to break free and start anew. Yet they have also learned that no one can be trusted. Tommy tries multiple times to escape, and while there’s a bounty out for him and the treasure he has hidden, Mo is adamant about keeping him alive. They both save each other from indigenous travelers and bounty hunters, yet whether they could save each other from themselves is the significant question.
Anthony Mandler directs “Surrounded” with a concise aim and vision. The film can be painful and tense to watch unfold, yet it always feels true to its characters and setting. Westerns often depict a harsh and justifiably paranoid time in U.S. history. Societies were being built as vigilante justice still reigned supreme. By focusing on a Black woman making her way through the West in 1870, “Surrounded” presents danger and resilience that are rarely seen in the Western genre.
Things To Note
Why Is “Surrounded” Rated R
- Dialogue: Strong profanity throughout
- Violence: Shootings, beatings, and the graphic result are on full display
- Sexual Content: N/A
- Miscellaneous: N/A
Please Note: This character guide is not an exhaustive list of every cast member, and character descriptions may contain what can be considered spoilers.
Moses “Mo” Washington
Mo is a tough and independent woman attempting to find gold further West. The color of her skin, her gender, and her isolation make her a primary target for harassment and violence in the West, so Mo does her best to keep her head down and say little. Yet this life of oppression reaches its boiling point when she meets Tommy Walsh.
Tommy Walsh is an outlaw who has thieved and killed in order to survive. Walsh is wanted throughout the West and has treasure hidden in a secret location, so he’ll do anything possible to ensure his own safety and livelihood. But when Tommy meets Mo, he finds someone who has endured a more painful life than he could have imagined.
Our Rating: Positive (Worth Seeing)
Notable Performances or Moments
Letitia Wright and Jamie Bell both give their characters and their relationship everything they got. The roles call for nuance, hardened choices, tears, violence, and softness toward one another. Their chemistry makes the viewer believe these two can be best friends or mortal enemies.
Tense Performances Provide Breathtaking Revelations and Violence
In the dead of night, Michael K. Williams’ character arrives. We’re not sure if he’s a beacon of light or a new danger that presents itself to Mo and Walsh. The scene that commences is one of the most tense exchanges I’ve seen this year. “Surrounded” requires every actor to grin and tighten their jaw with a potential gun ready to shoot at a second’s notice. “Surrounded” conveys through its actors that these people will always be entrapped by their own trauma, paranoia, and most dreadful future.
Beautiful Locations, Lighting, and Sound Design Pay Tribute to Classic Westerns
While “Surrounded” takes place in New Mexico, the film establishes the natural beauty of its setting. The sepia tones and candlelit lighting take us back to a world uncharted by Western civilization. The harsh sounds of a gun, stage wagon, and boots against dirt provide an authenticity to the scenes that prefers naturalism over sensationalism. “Surrounded” doesn’t try to make Western films look cool, but by committing itself to realism, that’s the result.
Mo’s Perspective Offers a Twist on Classic Westerns
At the start of the second act, Mo releases her anger. After Tommy Walsh assumes what Mo’s life as a Black woman is like in America post-Civil War, Mo finally expresses all the hurt and torment she’s repressed. It’s a rare moment in “Surrounded,” yet a crucial one that reveals the heart of its story. While most Westerns center on men looking to strike it rich, Mo is just looking for a place to survive. Her journey for a second life is a constant reminder of her time in slavery and that, as much as we aim for a better future, we cannot escape our past.
How Does It End?
After a brief period where the possibility of Mo and Tommy becoming partners seems real, Mo learns that Tommy has been lying to her. He has men still coming to rescue him and, most likely, murder her. Mo kills Tommy’s men in a violent and bloody ambush. The two have a showdown, which results in Tommy getting fatally wounded. He tells Mo she deserves his hidden money and that he’s happy he died at her hand.
The men that left Mo alone with Tommy earlier return with a sheriff, but he doesn’t believe that Mo killed all these men on her own. He figures if Mo survives this, God wants her alive, and he shouldn’t interfere. Mo is released and allowed to continue her journey for a better life.
If You Like This, You May Also Like…
- The Harder They Fall: A Western that centers on Black characters.
- Black Panther: Wakanda Forever: Another terrific Letitia Wright showcase.
- Rocket Man: A supporting performance by Jamie Bell.
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