Bob Marley: One Love – movie review

Jamaican born singer/songwriter Bob Marley was one of the music legends of the 70s, with his fusion of reggae, blues and soul achieving mainstream success. Time Magazine named his seminal 1977 album Exodus as the greatest record of the twentieth century. He has sold over 75 million records and has been inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame.

Marley was also an outspoken activist who tried to heal the political rift that divided his country in the turbulent 70s. In 1976 he staged a concert during the turbulent upheaval of a violent election campaign that divided Jamaica. He survived an assassination attempt in 1976 and, fearing for his safety, he left Jamaica and established himself in England. His subsequent concert tour of Europe was a huge success and brought him to global audiences and established him as a global star.

All of this is covered in the biopic Bob Marley: One Love, which basically focuses on a period of six or seven definitive years in the singer’s life from the mid 70s until his death in 1981. Written by Terence Winter (The Wolf of Wall Street), Frank E Flowers (Haven) and Zach Baylin (King Richard) the film follows along in chronological fashion, giving the material an episodic feel. The film is directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green (King Richard) and while it is a celebration of Marley’s life and music and his impact on the music scene of the 70s, this is still a cliched and bland biopic. Like many other recent movies about famous musicians this is a fairly standard biopic that reveals little that is new or surprising. And given that Marley’s wife Rita and eldest son Ziggy are amongst the credited producers, the film serves up a fairly reverential treatment and there is nothing too controversial or negative.

The film never really offers much insight into Marley. There are a couple of brief and impressionistic flashbacks to his childhood where he was raised on a plantation, but these add little detail to the character. Green and his cinematographer Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood) have shot the film on locations in Jamaica and England that were an integral part of Marley’s journey, which lends a veracity to the material.

British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir (One Night In Miami) totally inhabits the character and does a superb job of channeling the singer’s charisma and his dynamic stage presence. Unfortunately, due to his heavy accent, much of his dialogue is virtually incomprehensible and needs subtitles. Lashana Lynch (Captain Marvel) is also solid as his wife Rita who played an important role in Marley’s success. James Norton brings a touch of humour to proceedings with his affable performance as Chris Blackwell, Marley’s friend, producer and co-founder of Island Records, who helped shape his career. And further adding to the veracity of the film, many of the musicians here are played by the children of Marley’s backing band The Wailers themselves.

Music is the main drawcard of the film, and the soundtrack features many of Marley’s classic songs, although there are notable omissions from his catalogue, such as Buffalo Soldiers.

However, those wishing to learn more about the singer would do well to check out Kevin McDonald’s comprehensive 2012 documentary, simply titled Marley.

Greg King

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