The Pro Bono Watchman Image

The Pro Bono Watchman

By Chris Esper | April 5, 2023

Directed and produced by Ray Spivey, The Pro Bono Watchman is a feature-length dramatic thriller about a criminal defense attorney caring for his dying wife. He divides his remaining time serving as a supervised monitor to a 6-year-old girl and her unpredictable father with a violent past. The premise is promising, and there is entertainment value to be found, but how much you’re willing to suspend disbelief determines the enjoyment level.

Hank Cassidy (Mike Gassaway) is what one might call a “good ole boy.” He’s a loving husband and father of five kids (and has twelve grandchildren). As a criminal defense attorney, he sometimes took on cases pro bono, and his colleagues lovingly referred to him as “Cutthroat Cassidy.” Unfortunately, his wife, Lilian (Kelli Ball Grant), is in hospice care, dying of cancer. While caring for her, another responsibility comes Hank’s way. 

Hank’s friend, Clay Bertram (screenwriter/composer Ralph Cinque), asks him to supervise the visits between his granddaughter, Bonnie (Kariana Karhu), and her father, Lemarcus (George Welder). Lemarcus is a violent man, having beat his ex-wife, Evelyn (Bobbie Grace), but is granted supervised visits with Bonnie. Hank accepts and goes about becoming a “watchman” between the two. The visits prove to be a positive experience for Bonnie, but behind the happy times, trouble is brewing. Evelyn has suspicions that Lemarcus is putting on an act when Hank is around. Unfortunately, her fears are proven correct.

“…her fears are proven correct.”

The Pro Bono Watchman is a mixed experience. The actors, especially Gassaway, are likable and do a decent job. The picture is also well-produced, featuring nicely composed shots. It all starts promisingly enough but slowly begins to fall apart.

One of the biggest downfalls is its writing. The dialogue resorts to too much exposition. For instance, in an early scene, Hank lies in bed with Lilian, recounting their life together. The problem is they don’t merely reminisce but reveal details such as having five kids, twelve grandkids, etc. It comes off as unnatural. Many scenarios like this, where characters spill out backstories or facts rather than Spivey showing them, occur throughout. The problematic writing also leads to directorial and editorial issues. Most of the scenes are characters sitting and talking. A little movement and blocking with the actors and camera could improve the finished product. Alternatively, unnecessary scenes such as these could have been trimmed or cut.

I mentioned earlier how you might have to suspend disbelief to enjoy this film. I say that because some characters’ behaviors border on the unbelievable. For example, in one of the critical plot points, there are two moments in which Lemarcus and Chloe go to criminals to assist in scheme. In both scenes, the criminals are given large sums of money for their services. Both criminals are told to count the money but refuse by responding, “No, I don’t need to.” I found myself shaking my head in disbelief.

Despite its problems, The Pro Bono Watchman is sometimes entertaining, and the attempt is earnest. However, to bring more believability, it needed more action to show the characters’ motivation rather than explain them. Still, the cast is quite strong.

The Pro Bono Watchman (2022)

Directed: Ray Spivey

Written: Ralph Cinque

Starring: Mike Gassaway, Karinana Karhu, George Welder, Kelli Ball Grant, etc.

Movie score: 5/10

The Pro Bono Watchman Image

"…the actors, especially Gassaway, are likable…"

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