Witness to Murder: A Darrow Mystery (2019)

Hallmark Movies and Mysteries went to town in 2019, introducing a slate of new shows, many of which failed to impress. Thankfully the channel also gave us a new episode of Darrow and Darrow, and the movie makes the most of it’s rare appearance in the schedule. Only the fourth film of the series, Witness to Murder shows that things have come a long way from the lackluster first film. It’s now my favorite series to watch on Hallmark, a must-see even if it does come up just once or twice a year.

One reason is the cast, led by a strong triple act in Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Tom Cavanaugh, and Wendie Malick. Each brings his or her own strengths and carves out a memorable character. The relationship between lawyer Claire Darrow (Williams-Paisley) and her mother, Joanna (Malick), also a lawyer, is exciting and fresh, one that doesn’t model the usual dynamic of an anxious mom always nudging her kid towards the safe and sensible. Instead, Claire and Joanna fight it out, both unafraid to take risks whether at home or in the courtroom. Their trust in and respect for one another has led to a thaw in their relationship even if they still have their disagreements. Now they are learning to embrace other aspects of their personalities and to support each other in the process. Joanna tries to soften her edges by playing up her maternal instincts, building birdhouses and making pancakes as a way to bond with her family. Claire, for her part, still holds fast to her moral code, but her mother’s cutthroat tactics seem to have sharpened her lawyering skills in the process.

The two make an especially strong team when they come up against Joanna’s former employer. Cassie (Elysia Rotaru), an old colleague, appeals to the Darrows for help with an insider trading charge that could cost her custody of her daughter. Joanna hesitates to intervene since Cassie’s betrayal and false accusations led to her firing, but she relents when she comes face-to-face with her former boss, Harriman (Martin Cummins), and finds him to be as abusive and manipulative as ever. The stakes in this otherwise straightforward case rise dramatically though when Harriman is shot and his paralegal, Jason (Adam Beauchesne), killed right in front of Claire and Joanna.

Cassie’s 1970 gray Chevelle is seen speeding away from the scene of the crime, shell casings littered throughout the car. Just like that, she finds herself battling an additional murder charge. Despite the evidence, however, neither Darrow believes Cassie guilty, and they find other suspects who had it in for Harriman, if he was indeed the intended victim. His long enemies list includes people close to him, like his assistant, Tammy, and ex, Ms. Reed, as well as professional contacts, like Hugh, who was counting on Harriman to sort out a family inheritance matter.

For Claire, the case is complicated by her burgeoning relationship with prosecuting attorney Miles (Cavanagh). She’s taking things slow, too slow for her mother’s liking, seeing no reason to rush headlong into a romance when she knows Miles will still be waiting at the end of the day. When his ex, one Lt. Lang (Michelle Harrison), comes onto the scene, however, she reevaluates this strategy, and things get delightfully awkward between the two. As usual, the writers handle Claire and Miles’s storyline with plenty of wit and candor.

What I appreciate more so, however, is that their relationship is not the dominant one. In fact, the story gives equal weight to all the characters, including Claire’s daughter, Lou, who is caught up in her own student president race at school. Her presence isn’t just filler, a throwaway part used to help the movie’s pacing. Instead, she serves as a moderating force between her mother and grandmother and, in surprisingly poignant scene, shares a moment with Claire that touches on gun violence. Not to take away from the case at hand, which still proves to be a tidy mystery, but the sum of these characters makes this movie more compelling than an ordinary whodunit.

Highlight for spoilers: Harriman set up the shooting in order to kill Jason, who was using his position as trusted paralegal to dig up dirt on his boss. Harriman’s dealings caused Jason’s parents and others to lose money, and Jason was armed with the goods to bring Harriman down. Harriman hired Tammy and her brother to get a replica car, which they switched with Cassie’s actual car. The night before the shooting, they fired off eight rounds from Cassie’s Chevelle before returning it. That way, the shells would be in her car when she was driving around the next day. On the romance front, Lang is not in fact trying to reignite a relationship with Miles but offer a full apology so that she can move on.

Release: 2019
Dir: Michael Robison
Writer: Phoef Sutton
Cast: Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Wendie Malick, Tom Cavanaugh, Lilah Fitzgerald, Elysia Rotaru, Michelle Harrison, Barclay Hope, Martin Cummins, Antonio Cayonne, Gelsea Mae, Christie Burke, Adam Beauchesne, Claude Knowlton
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2020