Mo Washington (Letitia Wright) is a liberated woman. Since the end of the Civil War, she has been free for five years, even if she has nowhere to exercise this freedom. She has a charter for Colorado lands, but when her stagecoach is ambushed by marauders, her Plan and her possessions are in limbo. Posing as a man, the only power she has to mobilize is that she is in possession of a wanted outlaw named Tommy Walsh (Jamie Bell), whom she is holding hostage as a means of pressure on her way to the West.
Washington’s story takes place in a landscape described in director Anthony Mandler’s “Surrounded”.”The vastness of the open plains and the mountainous terrain promises both possibility and anarchy. The shots echo, and the earth itself swirls in the air-dirt and dust constantly appear. The foggy horizons and the warmth of the Wild West give a breathtaking cinematography, but the bones of the visuals are not enough to support the Film. Mandler’s direction is effective for the Genre, but there are a tiring number of cowboy shots posed against The horizon that seem corny due to their frequency.
The first writers Andrew Pagana and Justin Thomas are ambitious to include a poignant story in “Surrounded”, but ultimately fail because of the character of Mo Washington. There is a trait without character that has just reduced their identity to their only fate. His ambitions and obstacles to achieving these goals are undoubtedly empathetic, but the writers fail to align enough basic information to make his character feel deep. We have crumbs about how she got to the West disguised as a man in the back of a stagecoach, but not enough to consider Mo a fully realized person.
Tommy has a greater depth of character than the hero of the film and is therefore much more interesting. Mo Washington is mostly wordless, responding to moments of stiff apprehension and badass sniper defense. Bell’s Tommy is the one with the running jaw, jumping between big first-person shows, getting poetic about the realities of life on the fringes and coming up with laser-focused plans to bring Mo to his side.
Wright and Bell have a good relationship as performers, but Bell is too much in the spotlight. Where Wright fails to maintain consistency in his performance, to bounce credibility, Bell gracefully maneuvers the spectrum of Tommy’s dispositions. This may be partly due to more in-depth writing on his part, but Wright never really feels like he’s committed either and tends to lose momentum when his stage partner isn’t steering the ship.
“Surrounded” is a bit like a play, monologues and all, but it lacks the narrative dynamism to move the Film forward. The rhythm stutters in cycles, with a few minutes of Intense Action turning into a dialogue-heavy roar, then back. However, the most effective sequence of the film is a nail biter. In his recent role, the after great stage thief Michael K. Williams approaches Mo and Tommy in the night, and whether or not he can be trusted is as much a secret to them as to the viewer.