April 17, 2024

Film Review: Bob Marley: One Love

3.5 Stars
By Joseph Beyer | March 2, 2024

Perhaps the first sign that Bob Marley: One Love might be a suspiciously polished and glowing take on the pop culture icon was the video from his son, Ziggy, that played before the film. In it, Ziggy pronounces that he and the Marley family “love how the film turned out.” And so they should.

That’s because for the next 1 hour and 47 minutes after this introduction, you will experience Bob Marley framed as a heroic poet to be admired and respected (even as the narrative skips over any true negative shade from his absentee parenting, violence, infidelity in his marriage, or sometimes childlike-innocence about the consequences of his actions). What I believe you are meant to take from this shiny portrait is that Bob Marley, the man, was a vehicle for something larger and more important than his earthly shortcomings.

The artist died at the young age of 36, which has only increased the legend of his short life.

That Bob Marley, as channeled impressively with dynamic energy by actor Kingsley Ben-Adir, is almost always forgiven. And as the messenger for both the musical genre of reggae and the divine nature of cannabis, Marley’s quest for peace becomes his hero’s journey—even if you, the audience, have little layered context for why during most of it.

There are clues, of course. The politically torn Jamaica of his times is in the background, and the centerpiece of drama is the 1976 assassination attempt on Marley that comes from that cultural upheaval. Forced to abandon his country and family for his own safety, Marley’s time away from Jamaica becomes a reckoning of his purpose and an explosion of creativity resulting in the epic album Exodus.

The film benefits greatly from the glimmer of nuances in the performance of Rita Marley, played by the enormously talented Lashana Lynch. Rita is Marley’s confidante, wife, mother of his children, protector, and sometimes muse. Their dutiful understanding and acceptance of each other gives depth to a narrative that otherwise blows by quickly as it struggles to cover the exposition.

Despite all the good intentions of the many talented artists behind it, Bob Marley: One Love can’t seem to elevate itself from the category of cinematic camel. Everything seems carefully, delicately managed for the ages by a committee of family, studios, and four credited screenwriters.

It’s a disappointing result for a movie that roared into the market with extended trailers, major awards hype, and a sense of self-fulfillment as the true story of an Jamaican artist who created his own subculture with a pacifist’s mind, a stoner’s heart, and the unique perspective of an islander child during colonialism.

Writer and director Reinaldo Marcus Green, who comes from independent film roots with Monsters and Men and King Richard, is a keen observer. He infuses One Love with a documentary style when showcasing Marley’s creative energy. Those musical montages, along with a dreamlike visual style throughout, are evidence of how hard Green works to orchestrate a subconscious portrait.

It all comes through in a large format biopic fitting for the legendary impact of an artist who fiercely insisted that the music and the message were the same. And his raw vocals about peace, love, and understanding (channeled without cynicism), remain the best way to experience him.


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