An old man divides his time between sitting with his dying wife and monitoring the visits between a 6-year-old girl and her wayward father who has a violent past in Ray Spivey’s The Pro Bono Watchman.
The Pro Bono Watchman stars veteran actor Mike Gassaway as a cantankerous-yet-loving husband and retired lawyer Hank Cassidy who not only looks after his dying wife but also keeps his handgun ready to lock and load. Dirty Harry on a pension, we’re thinking, until we realize that only the lawyer retired; Dirty Harry is still on the job. Gassaway plays the character as a man bursting with energy, most of which he uses to hold himself in, but he is ready to explode at a moment’s notice. Each word and each scowl seems to have broken loose from a deep place.
Cassidy is asked by one of his friends to monitor the visits his son-in-law Lemarcus Gentry (played by the sinister George Welder) has been granted to see his granddaughter. Gentry had been physically abusive to the mom and had been sent to prison, but on his release has been given the right to see his child but only under supervision. Cassidy is happy to help his friend and becomes the monitor for the visits and, after an initial hostile first meeting between the two men, they eventually begin to bond, and Cassidy begins to be torn. The rest of the film sees Cassidy fighting with what he knows Gentry is capable of, the change he is seeing from Gentry during visits, and the requests from his friends and family to stop sticking up for him.
Gassaway has a very impressive resume, not only has he acted in over 78 films, winning a few Emmys along the way, but he has also been a stunt man and a stunt coordinator for some major Hollywood productions including the John Wick, Expendables, and Mission Impossible franchises. He has also recently worked on the Top Gun sequel Maverick, so he is highly respected in his field. He gives a fine performance here, showing a nice range of emotion; he runs the gamut from rage and anger during the action scenes to a loving and caring friend and husband in the more poignant scenes. He is very good in all aspects, with his Southern drawl giving him an authentic and unusual patter.
Ray Spivey’s direction is workmanlike and there are a couple of nice moments including a fight around a pool in the opening few minutes, but he tends to overuse the same shots and framing, particularly the bedroom scenes and during a nice picnic bench moment. Also, one or two of the actors would have benefited from having their performances toned down a little, I feel.
The script by Ralph Cinque has a lovely premise and moves along nicely until the fiftieth-minute mark when there is a twist that is added that is so completely unbelievable it ends up spoiling the rest of the film, then fifteen minutes later, as the plot thickens and begins to involve drugs and hypnotism, the story simply becomes preposterous.
Fortunately, the cinematography by Anton Savenko always looks great, and the cast manages to hold it all together with committed performances, but once finished, you can’t help feeling that The Pro Bono Watchman is a good opportunity that slightly misses its target.