SYNOPSIS: Five years after the Civil War, a freedwoman and ex-Buffalo Soldier posing as a man travels west to lay claim to a gold mine but after a failed stagecoach holdup, she is forced to stand guard over the gang leader until the law can arrive to arrest him.
Disguised as a man to fight in the civil war, former soldier Mo Washington (Letitia Wright) returns to civilian life to secure a gold mine in Colorado using a land deed she has somehow possessed. To get there, she bought a ticket on a stagecoach but the journey is soon waylaid by a bunch of crooks led by notorious bank robber, Tommy Walsh (Jamie Bell).
A fight ensues and Tommy is captured by Mo. While a lawman named Wheeler (Jeffrey Donovan) has to escort a fellow injured passenger to the doctor, Mo is tasked by Wheeler to guard Tommy till backup arrives. What follows is a series of mind games between Tommy and Mo and the mystery whereabouts of Tommy’s hidden loot.
Surrounded wastes no time in setting up the premise and the mood. Like an old-school Western, the hero and villain are established shortly after the opening. In this case, Mo is the heroine, a woman of color who fought her way to stay alive in a treacherous world where Blacks are sold as slaves and mercilessly slaughtered. In the grand tradition of “Mulan”, she passed herself off as a man or a young teenager at least. She has no qualms killing any men that crossed her path, her greatest desire is not murder but freedom.
Letitia Wright is excellent in the role, far more convincing and heart-wrenching than her part in Wakanda Forever. Her character though strong-willed is a tad too skilful at some point. Playing opposite her for the entire run is Jamie Bell who equally puts in a solid performance as the crafty famed robber. Watching the character of Tommy trying to break down Mo is equal parts engaging, deadly and dynamic. The late Michael K. Williams appears in one scene-stealing scene as a reminder that no one is what they say or seem in the Wild West.
As a western, director Anthony Mandler concocts a series of competent gun-slinging fights across the harsh terrain of sand and occasionally snow. There’s nothing like some cool old-fashioned brutal gunfights to save the day and you probably be amazed by the breath-taking cinematography of New Mexico as well. The story written by Andrew Pagana and Justin Thomas fills the narrative with a perfect balance of action and themes of survival, racial tensions, trauma without being all too stifling.
In short, Surrounded features a well-meaningful story and top-notch performances from two leading British actors cast ironically in an American western.
Review by Linus Tee