Surrounded (2023)

Surrounded (2023)


An occasionally riveting but ultimately forgettable Western whose parts are much greater than its whole



Canada, United Kingdom
Action, Drama, Western
Brett Gelman, Jamie Bell, Jeffrey Donovan
100 min


This is a plea to all of Hollywood: cast Jamie Bell in more movies you cowards!

What it's about

Mo Washington (Letitia Wright), a young Black woman recently freed from slavery, heads west to claim her property, but she’s thwarted by violent marauders and a cunning fugitive named Tommy Walsh (Jamie Bell).

The take

Surrounded has the bones of a revenge-style Western. It turns the table on the white cowboy hero and gives us (on paper, at least) complex leads in Mo and Tommy. Mo is a young Black woman whose experience as a Buffalo Solider lends her not only the skills of an expert gunslinger but also the anger and motivation to push through any obstacle, while Tommy is the enigmatic thief who Mo reluctantly relies on in her quest for freedom. With all this pent-up tension, the film should work, and it does occasionally thanks to Wright and Bell’s deft performances (Bell is especially exceptional), the stunning mountainous terrains, and the worthy attempts at race and class commentary. But for the most part, the film's ambitions fall flat. The monologues are overlong and too evocative of modern speech to be historically believable. The action scenes, while exciting, only sputter here and there and never gain the momentum the film needs to genuinely thrill. And the thin backstories of Mo and Tommy raise more questions than answers. More often than not, Surrounded looks like a couple of good scenes strewn together on a lousy string; the foundations are off but there’s some enjoyment to be found.

What stands out

Of the few good moments it does have, the most memorable is a nail-biting scene shared by Wright, Bell, and Michael K. Williams in one of his final roles before his passing in 2021. Here, Mo is torn between trusting Tommy, a known con man, and Williams’ character Will Clay, a Black man who reminds her of her father. The scene is wrought with tension as Tommy and Will persuade a distressed Mo to each of their sides, but beneath the manipulation and mind games lies an even more sinister layer: that of racial politics. Mo has to decide if she will stick with her kin or go against them, and the way this specific scene plays out—slowly, smartly, and with much suspense—is how I wish the entire film played out.


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