Picture of Derrick Dunn

Derrick Dunn

The West is a bore in Surrounded

After making a promising debut with Monster, director Anthony Mandler returns with his sophomore feature, Surrounded from MGM. Andrew Pagana and Justin Thomas pen the film’s screenplay. 

Five years after the Civil War, freedwoman and former Buffalo Soldier Moses “Mo” Washington (Leticia Wright) travels west to lay claim to a gold mine, the summation of years of toil for Mo and her community. It is a mean, dangerous world for an unaccompanied Black woman in 1870 America, so Mo travels into the deep frontier disguised as a man. 

Following a brutal attack by a gang of violent thieves on her stagecoach, Mo must take the notorious outlaw Tommy Walsh (Jamie Bell) captive. The other surviving passengers entrust Mo with the responsibility of detaining Walsh while they seek help. As they both struggle to survive in the harsh Western terrain, a power struggle ensues between Mo and Walsh, blurring the lines of who is the captor and who is the captive. Things take another turn, though, when Walsh’s gang sets out to free him.

Using the film medium to tell the story of the old West through the eyes of a Black Woman isn’t a new concept, as the films Gang of Roses and The Harder They Fall explored it previously. Fresh off performances in the blockbuster Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and the indie The Silent Twins, Wright has her third starring role in twelve months.

Regretfully though, the film is the weakest of the three. Mandler and his scriptwriters craft a painfully slow film without memorable shootout scenes and waste its cast. The blame doesn’t fall squarely on Wright, in any case. Wright attempts to lift the material, but the material just isn’t there.

The usually reliable Jamie Bell and Jeffrey Donovan are both on autopilot for the entire film, delivering paycheck-style performances that reek of amateurish writing exercises from a first-year film student. Some of the film’s promotion will center around the fact that it is the final project of the esteemed late Michael K. Williams, which undoubtedly will garner significant interest.

Williams’s role is nothing more than a cameo as a character named The Stranger, who has a connection to Walsh. He delivers his monologue with great intensity in the brief moments he is on screen. While I understand that Williams’s death affected the final project, I wonder how much Williams’s character played in the script’s first draft.

When I was a child in the 1980s, Westerns were common in my home. I recall my grandfather watching reruns of Bonanza and Maverick. I developed an appreciation for Westerns as I grew older after watching films like Posse and Unforgiven. However, despite the director’s efforts to avoid racial stereotyping, I found the movie boring and know the cast and crew are capable of better.


Final Grade: C-

Surrounded is available on Digital, June 20th.

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The West is a bore in Surrounded