Lashana Lynch as Rita Marley and Kingsley Ben-Adir as Bob Marley laugh together on a couch.

Film Review: Bob Marley: One Love

Film Reviews

Bob Marley: One Love
Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green

Tuff Gong Pictures and Plan B Entertainment
In Theaters: 02.14

It’s been over a month since Hollywood released a biopic of a legendary musician, and Bob Marley: One Love is here to alleviate fears that Hollywood might have lost interest in continuing to beat this genre into the ground. 

Kingsley Ben-Adir (Barbie, One Night In Miami) plays Bob Marley in the late ‘70s when political tensions in Jamaica are at a fever pitch. The Reggae singer, Rastafarian icon, and political activist, survives an assassination attempt along with his wife, Rita (Lashana Lynch, Captain Marvel, No Time To Die). Bob and his band, Bob Marley and the Wailers, flee to London. There the Exodus album, which propelled Marley to international superstardom and was named the best album of the 20th century by Time Magazine, was recorded. It tells the story of Marley’s cancer diagnosis and his pivotal decision to return to Jamaica for the historic One Love Peace Concert.

Bob Marley: One Love is an entertaining, if disjointed, snapshot into the life and achievements of a complex and important figure in music, spiritualism, and politics. Thankfully, it all feels a good deal less trite and overdramatized than Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman, or Respect. It’s also less focused. Those who know little about Marley’s life, beliefs, and career may wish to do a quick Wikipedia search of the basics first (coincidentally, this exact technique is how the screenplays for Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman and Respect were written). Director Reinaldo Marcus Green (Joe Bell, King Richard) favors a straightforward stylistic approach to the film, preventing it from getting too flashy. Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood) makes sure that it looks raw and real. The narrative structure, which includes flashbacks to Marley’s childhood, as well as his courtship with Rita, and conversion to Rastafarianism, bites off more than it can chew. Itall feels frustrating and muddled. Still, it’s compelling, and there’s enough great music and philosophy to draw anyone to an appreciation for Marley’s work and a greater interest in his beliefs to make it feel worthwhile. The stirring score by Kris Bowers (Green Book, Bridgerton) is a major highlight that deserves to be heard on a top-quality sound system.

Ben-Adir, a talented actor who has previously played both Barack Obama (The Comey Rule) and Malcom X (One Night in Miami) has made a career out of playing historical figures. As Marley he’s magnetic, though there’s a certain distance between the audience and the character. Partially due to a screenplay that can’t quite seem to pin down who Marley was as a person and partially because it often feels like a self-conscious impersonation. He’s also a bit too good looking for the part and at times his grand hand gestures, mimicking Marley’s mannerisms, had me wondering if he was merely making an effort to keep his hands close to his head in case his wig started to fall off.  Lynch fares better and the film feels far more interesting and convincing every time she comes on screen. James Norton (Flatliners, Little Women, The Nevers) is charismatic as Christopher Blackwell, Marley’s record producer, though it’s such a miniscule role that we barely catch his name, much less get any sense of who he is.

As a commercial for Marley’s music and a jumping-off point for getting people interested in who he was and what he stood for, Bob Marley: One Love gets my recommendation as a fan of the artist and his work. As movie, however, it’s a bit too perfunctory a glimpse at the man and his influence to be completely satisfying. Still, for fans of the genre and of Marley who just want to celebrate the music and the message, “everything is gonna be alright.” –Patrick Gibbs

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