Mysterious Circumstance: The Death of Meriwether Lewis is a recreation of the possible events leading up to the death of famed explorer Meriwether Lewis. For those not up on American history, he was the Lewis in The Lewis and Clark Expedition that charted the land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. The expedition lasted from May 14, 1804, to Sept 23, 1806, on October 11th, 1809 he died, allegedly a suicide.
Writer/director Clark Richey opens the film with Lewis (Evan Williams, A Flesh Offering, Awkward) renting a room from innkeeper Priscilla Grinder (Amye Gousset, Assimilate, The Card Counter) whose husband Robert (Sonny Marinelli, Rites of Spring, Rosewood Lane) is away on business. That night Priscilla, after hearing voices and gunshots, finds Lewis in the yard bleeding out from a pair of gunshot wounds.
In 1811 Lewis’ friend Alexander Wilson (Billy Slaughter, Cold Moon, Where the Crawdads Sing) arrives at the Grinder’s inn under orders from President Jefferson to investigate the events of that night. His questions form the framework for the telling of different versions of Lewis’ death.
The historical record strongly supports the official verdict, Lewis was under grave strain, both personal and financial, and was known to suffer from depression and possibly a mild case of schizophrenia, neither of which was helped by his heavy drinking. But there was controversy both at the time and in the years that followed which is what Mysterious Circumstance: The Death of Meriwether Lewis draws from.
The various theories seem to agree that in the pre-dawn hours US Agent James Neely (John Schneider, Penance Lane, The Stairs) left the group, claiming the pack horses had gotten loose and he would retrieve them. And that Lewis left on his own leaving Captain Tom (Marcus Dupree, Hands on Hardcore, Red Bluff 2: For Human’s Sake), and John Parnia (Lance E. Nichols, Body Cam, Christmas on the Range) to catch up with him at the Grinder’s.
However the accounts Mysterious Circumstance: The Death of Meriwether Lewis presents us with vary wildly in the details of everything from Lewis’ state of mental health, one account has him riding off without so much as putting his pants on, to how the horses got loose whether getting themselves free after being spooked or being deliberately untied.
Similarly, Mysterious Circumstance: The Death of Meriwether Lewis presents us with several motives for his death apart from the official one, including robbery, political conspiracy, he was the Governor of the Louisiana Territories at the time of his death, and the wrath of a jealous husband.
I once again find myself saying that at an hour and fifty minutes, the film runs long, though it doesn’t seem as draggy as some long films and the effect seems to be as much from seeing variations of the same events repeatedly. Richey does well for a first-time director, but this kind of plot structure is hard to pull off without seeming repetitive at some point. Unless of course you’re Akira Kurosawa and you’re making Rashomon.
History buffs and fans of unsolved mysteries should get the most enjoyment out of Mysterious Circumstance: The Death of Meriwether Lewis, they might not even mind its length. Others may find it interesting depending on their tastes, they could do worse than give it a try although, as it is family-friendly, some may find it a little dry and lacking in action.
Mysterious Circumstance: The Death of Meriwether Lewis is currently in limited theatrical release via Vision Films. It comes to VOD and Digital platforms on October 28th. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more information including at least some of the theatres it’s playing at. You can also check out FilmTagger for more mysteries to unravel.