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Review: Bob Marley: One Love (2024)

Bob Marley: One Love (2024)

Directed by: Reinaldo Marcus Green

Premise: A biographical drama about musician Bob Marley (Kingsley Ben-Adir), focusing on Marley’s life and career in the late 1970s. Marley uses his music as an appeal for peace as Jamaica verges on civil war.

What Works: Biopics about an artist have to find the meaning between the creator and their work. Successful examples of this genre include Capote, The Doors, and Walk the Line which dramatized the life and times of those creators and their complicated relationship with their work and public images. As a musical biopic, Bob Marley: One Love succeeds in a limited way. Rather than a cradle to grave story, One Love focuses on a few years in Bob Marley’s life. In the late 1970s, Jamaica was on the verge of civil war and one of the factions tried to murder Marley, leading him to leave his home country for a time and create the Exodus album which is regarded as Marley’s masterwork. Marley’s Rastafarian faith was key to his identity and his music and the filmmakers dramatize this fairly well. One Love benefits from the casting of Kingsley Ben-Adir as Bob Marley and Lashana Lynch as his wife Rita. Ben-Adir’s look and presence resembles Marley and his performance captures the spiritual quality that is key to Marley’s public image and ongoing appeal. The scenes between Marley and Rita bring out the singer’s fallible human side and Lynch’s performance is where the movie really gets beyond myth and into reality.

What Doesn’t: One Love’s depiction of Bob Marley is almost entirely hagiographic. The film was produced by members of Marley’s family and like many similar musical biopics, One Love has to be understood as an act of legacy curation by his estate. With a few exceptions, Marley is saintly throughout the picture. He’s depicted as a model musician and family man. The few occasions where One Love deviates from hagiography come across out of place with the rest of the picture; the filmmakers acknowledge his infidelity but don’t do anything with it. Instead of embracing complexity, One Love flattens and simplifies Marley’s life and legacy. The storytelling is often compromised, forcing elements of Marley’s life into the narrative in ways that disrupt the narrative. That’s especially true of the flashbacks to Marley’s young life which are extraneous. The film’s underlying thesis is that Marley inspired peace in Jamaica but One Love never substantiates that reputation. There’s no storytelling link between Marley’s music and a tangible political outcome. The picture cobbles together a lot of elements of Marley’s life but those pieces aren’t assembled in a way that creates anything interesting or revelatory.

Bottom Line: Bob Marley: One Love will speak to Marley’s fans and the quality of the performances and the production make this a solid but average musical biopic. Viewers seeking a more meaningful exploration of Marley should check out the 2012 documentary Marley.

Episode: #987 (March 3, 2024)