Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

Surrounded (MGM, 2023)

 

New Western

 

Surrounded is a beautiful-looking film, shot in New Mexico (that wonderful pink light) by Max Goldman, better known for rock videos but doing a marvelous job here. However, as Peyton Robinson on rogerebert.com says, “The hazy horizons and warmth of the Wild West lend to stunning cinematography, but the bones of the visuals are not enough to support the film.” That is true.

 

 

One major problem is that the hero, Mo Washington (Letitia Wright), is a woman posing as a man and she never convinces. She doesn’t look or sound male and you kind of scoff when so many characters take her masculinity for granted. It reminded me of Barbara Hale in West of the Pecos (1945), when Bob Mitchum was standing in for Tim Holt. She too thought it safer to travel the West dressed as a man and this gave rise to all sorts of ‘hilarious’ situations. There’s no hilarity in Surrounded, though. I suppose you have to be able to suspend your disbelief to watch a Western at all, but here the suspension required is just too much.

 

He’s a she

 

The stage s/he is traveling on is held up by outlaws and there’s a big fight. S/he ends up holding the gang boss prisoner. This is Tommy Walsh, played by Northern-English Jamie Bell, who has come quite far since he was Billy Elliot. In fact, Walsh’s character is delineated more than Mo’s, and there is an attempt to make it quite interesting – up to a point. Basically, he steals the scenes they are both in.

 

Billy out West

 

Talking of scene-stealing, the late Michael Kenneth Williams has a very brief bit as a presumed bounty hunter and is genuinely scary.

 

Scene sealing

 

But for most of the picture there’s too much dialogue, or more accurately monologue, and such action as there is comes rarely and sporadically. I reckon the script had some kind of point when it questions how free a freedman (or woman) could be, but otherwise much of it is pretty vapid.

 

Dennis Schwartz said, “If you can navigate your way through a few of the film’s dead spots, you should find this a superior Western” but I’m not so sure.

 

Director Anthony Mandler

 

It didn’t get a theatrical release when it was made a couple of years ago but is now available on Prime, here in France anyway. It’s probably worth a watch – it’s a Western after all – but I’m afraid it didn’t get my blood racing.

 

 

 

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