This “Black Panther” actress has some True Grit.
Letitia Wright has proven herself to be an actress who can be more than just her Shuri character in the “Black Panther” movies. The “Mangrove” film in the “Small Axe” package, her voice role in “Sing 2,” and her latest independent western “Surrounded” are all prove of her versatility.
This western takes place 5 years after the Civil War ended. The freedwoman and former Buffalo Solider Mo Washington (Wright) poses as a man heading out West. She has the short hair and youthful appearance to pull it off. I don’t want to say anything sexist, but she seems to be a professional at disguising herself as a young man.
She hitches a ride with passengers like the family man and lawman Wheeler (Jeffrey Donovan), the whiskey salesman Mr. Fields (Brett Gelman), and the pompous Mrs. Border (Augusta Allen-Jones). They all become attacked by a group of criminals, led by the notorious Tommy Walsh (Jamie Bell), but some of them are able to fight back, including Mo herself (or himself in their eyes).
Mr. Fields gets shot, and both Wheeler and the coachman Curly (Kevin Wiggins) must bring him to town to find a doctor. They tie Walsh to a tree, and Mo is tasked with watching over him until the authorities arrive. Besides, they need him alive, because he’s the only one who knows where the stolen loot is.
Walsh tries to call Mo’s bluff, especially when he calls her a slave. But she has the balls to knock him down and threaten him with her gun.
Of course, they both face obstacles like Native Americans, and another group of men led by Will Clay (the late Michael Kenneth Williams), who claims to be a farmer. And of course, these two would team up against those adversaries.
Walsh tries to convince her that they should split the stolen money together, but as an African-American woman, Mo has learned to embrace herself in such dark times, especially when she has to deal with some more bad guys along the way.
Director Anthony Mandler, whose background includes music videos and his previous film “Monster,” directs “Surrounded” with ambiance and energy, while using the right leading lady to really draw us into the story. Even if the middle of the film goes on a little long, it still is gorgeously photographed by Max Goldman, and well-acted by Wright and Bell. I guess it is true that British actors can use Southern accents very well, especially since Benedict Cumberbatch gave the best performance of 2021 in “The Power of the Dog.”
A few weeks ago, my mother, grandmother, and I came across the John Wayne movie “Hondo” on TV, and we all watched and enjoyed it. It was an old western with an actor that many, at the time, could relate to. And if you look at the scope of that film, you would acknowledge that classic westerns were truly classic westerns. It usually takes miracles for today’s filmmakers to remind us about those films, because of how they choose to write and direct their characters, and how to really allow the audience to relate to them.
“Surrounded” is no classic western, because of some of its flaws, but it sure as Hell wants to act like one with some timely themes.
Streaming On Demand