Bob Marley: One Love movie poster

Bob Marley: One Love

In theaters February 14, 2024

Rated

,

107 minutes

Directed by:

Starring: ,

The music biopic has been a fixture on the big screen for the last few decades with some thriving (most recently Elvis, Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman) and others divings (the rarely seen I Wanna Dance with Somebody). Bob Marley: One Love, the story of the reggae legend from 1976-1978 lands somewhere in between.

Unlike other music biopics that tell the story of a musical genius from a young age or over a decade or two, Bob Marley: One Love chooses to focus on a short two-year period – from the near assassination of Marley (played brilliantly by Kingsley Ben-Adir) two days before his performance at 1976’s Smile Jamaica to his return to Jamaica in 1978 for the One Love Peace Concert. The time period is significant because it was during this time that he recorded Exodus, an album that was later feted by Time magazine to be the 20th Century’s most important album.

During the mid 1970’s, Jamaica was the site of a political civil war with the People’s National Party and Jamaican Labour Party battling one another for control. Marley, an artist on the rise, and believer in his homeland, hoped his message of unity would help calm the fighting, but others viewed the Smile Jamaica concert as a support rally for Michael Manley, Prime Minister and a member of the People’s National Party, and would stop at nothing to block his attendance. In an attempt to do so, two gunmen raided Marley’s house injuring the singer, but also severely wounding Marley’s wife, Rita (Lashana Lynch) and manager, Don Taylor (Anthony Welsh). It was a moment that would forever change the lives of the three survivors and one that eventually took Marley and his family away from Jamaica. The story of Marley’s recording of his most famous album dominates much of the film, but director Reinaldo Marcus Green also brings to life Marley’s love for his family and the ups and downs of his marriage to Rita.

Bob Marley: One Love is at its best when capturing Marley writing future classics or performing in front of thousands of fans. But, this is not a concert film, and it’s the scenes that sandwich a performance that bring the film down. The biggest misstep though are far too brief flashbacks to key moments in Marley’s life; by focusing on such a narrow period, the film fails to depict what got Marley to that point – how Marley found his way to reggae and what inspired him along the way – and Marley’s too short years up to his passing. The Jamaican patois language also makes it difficult to understand many of the actors’ lines, leaving viewers to fill in the blanks.

After an award-winning performance in One Night in Miami… playing a much more controversial icon, Malcolm X, and more recently in the inescapable Barbie as Ken, Ben-Adir lights up the screen playing the king of reggae. Featured in nearly the entire film, the British actor embodies Marley from his presence dancing on stage to singing lessons that paid off in spades – Ben Adir’s vocals can easily be mistaken to be that of the most famous Rastafarian. When the camera captures Ben-Adir at certain angles or even a simple smile, it’s difficult to differentiate the actor from the real life musician. Lashana Lynch, perhaps best known for playing the best friend of Carol Danvers (aka Captain Marvel), triumphs as Marley’s wife, Rita, and carries some of the heavier scenes.

Green, who clearly has a penchant for biopics with Bob Marley: One Love being a follow up to the award-nominated King Richard about Serena and Venus Williams’ father, struggles to recapture that magic due to a inferior script with no less than four screenwriters. With that many writers, few films ever rise to the top of the charts.

Bob Marley: One Love is not a bad film. In fact, many will walk away pleased to learn a bit more about a man who will forever live as the best reggae artist. But, when compared to classic music biopics like The Doors, Straight Outta Compton, and Ray, Bob Marley: One Love fails to stir it up.

Bob Marley: One Love is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: Mark Eaton
Mark is an entertainment junkie, spending much of his leisure time watching movies, TV, or listening to any and all genres of music. Most evenings, after finishing a day of work and hanging with his wife and kids, Mark can be found in an eternal battle with his DVR, trying to clear it before another 5-6 hours of shows are recorded the next day. Still reeling from his unpaid gig for the Detroit News where he was fired for being too cruel with his American Idol recaps, Mark is thrilled to be sharing his wicked sense of humor with Movie Reelists.

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