Bob Marley: One Love (2024, dir. Reinaldo Marcus Green)

by | Feb 16, 2024

Certificate: 12A

Running Time: 104 mins

UK Distributor: Paramount Pictures

UK Release Date: 14 February 2024

WHO’S IN BOB MARLEY: ONE LOVE?

Kingsley Ben-Adir, Lashana Lynch, James Norton, Micheal Ward, Sam Palladio, Jesse Cilio, Sevana, Tosin Cole, Michael Gandolfini, Nadine Marshall, Anthony Welsh

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Reinaldo Marcus Green (director, writer), Zach Baylin, Frank E. Flowers and Terence Winter (writers), Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Cedella Marley, Rita Marley, Ziggy Marley, Brad Pitt and Robert Teitel (producers), Kris Bowers (composer), Robert Elswit (cinematographer), Pamela Martin (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Reggae musician Bob Marley (Ben-Adir) rises to prominence throughout the world…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON BOB MARLEY: ONE LOVE?

Bob Marley, the reggae icon who enraptured the world with his soulful music and passionate messages of peace and love, is well overdue a film biopic. He’s been the subject of numerous documentaries, but until now he’s quite surprisingly not been the focus of a more dramatized rendition of his tragically short, but no less inspirational, life. And, honestly, how can you pack a literal lifetime, one that has become legendary in and of itself, into a contained feature-length runtime without skipping any vital events?

The answer, according to director Reinaldo Marcus Green – who also co-writes the screenplay for Bob Marley: One Love with Zach Baylin, Frank E. Flowers and Terence Winter – is to not do it all in one go. Green’s film starts at a specific moment in Marley’s career, where he’s already become a household name from his home in Jamaica to the United States, and from there attempts to explore the deeper meanings behind his universal messages and appeal, while still telling his story in ways that will ultimately appeal to the masses.

Not all of it is successful, for there are generic biopic conventions that even this film cannot shake off, but it’s certainly got a little bit more on its mind than most other critics may have picked up on, which makes it an easily likeable and gentle biopic to experience.

As mentioned, the film picks up when Bob Marley (Kingsley Ben-Adir) announces a concert designed to promote peace and unity at a time of political turmoil and gang violence in Jamaica. Things go fine, until a gunman (Micheal Ward) shows up at Bob’s house and seriously injures close friends and family, including his wife Rita (Lashana Lynch). The failed assassination soon prompts Bob to abscond to London, where he and his bandmates begin work on their next album, which would become the legendary Exodus record that launches Marley to stratospheric new heights in terms of his fame and overall legend status. However, as his health ultimately catches up to him, Bob must contend with what kind of message he was ultimately born to deliver, and whether or not it can outlive even himself.

In many respects, Bob Marley: One Love is an extremely safe biopic, clearly moulded in the shape of Bohemian Rhapsody and I Wanna Dance With Somebody, which similarly placed their very unconventional subjects into an exceptionally conventional biographical structure. As in those films, this one has scenes of its central figure having various lightbulb moments that would ultimately lead to iconic songs, flashbacks to childhood memories both happy and tragic, moments where the level of fame starts to get to their head, and various montages of the singer touring across the world as their music rises in the charts. If you’re already sick of those familiar biopic tropes then Bob Marley: One Love isn’t going to win you back over, as it almost shamelessly dabbles in the same attributes that have plagued even the better musical bios out there.

However, what this film offers over something like Bohemian Rhapsody is a profound earnestness, clearly made out of respect and love for its subject matter without too much cynicism souring the overall impact. Green is no stranger to making hard-hitting biopics, having previously directed King Richard and Joe Bell, though here the filmmaker lends a softer touch to the life of Bob Marley that may not be as deep or as complex as some may prefer, but it nonetheless feels appropriate given Marley’s own gentle and accessible appeal which, like the film, came from a place of laid-back sincerity. While it’s true that the script doesn’t dig that far into his actual character, it does a fairly respectable job of capturing what Bob Marley is to so many people, that being a champion for peace and harmony whose energetic charisma could end wars if it so wished, and Kingsley Ben-Adir’s magnetic lead performance further encapsulates why his legacy continues to endure more than forty years after his death.

The fact that it is also not a full start-to-finish retelling of Bob Marley’s life is also massively beneficial to this film. So many musician biopics tend to fall into the trap of starting right from the beginning of their trajectory to stardom, before spending the rest of the film going through many of the important moments in the subject’s life and career until it concludes with an iconic live performance (again, look to Bohemian Rhapsody as the purest example of that). All of that often leads a film like this to feel overstuffed with simplified renditions that have no room to be fleshed out, to where a miniseries would be a more appropriate avenue to properly encompass all of it. However, by adopting a slightly more singular focus, with Marley’s earlier years only briefly glimpsed in aforementioned flashbacks while much of the rest of it is him at this particular point in his career, this film narrowly avoids feeling like a list of bullet points for someone’s life, and allows most of the drama to unfold a bit more naturally with a tad more development than a much busier narrative would allow.

Yes, the movie is certainly not great, for its conventions are numerous and its script is ultimately thin on pure characterisation. However, it seems unlikely that anyone involved in this movie sought to make something challenging, because in a lot of respects Bob Marley wasn’t a challenging figure. He certainly had strong ideologies, but they rarely (if at all) came from a bad place, and neither does Bob Marley: One Love, a film that captures the easy-going heart and soul of its central figure in pleasing and comfortable ways, even if it is at the expense of being just as safe and structurally familiar as many other biopics of legendary musicians.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Bob Marley: One Love undoubtedly dabbles in numerous biopic conventions which present a fairly safe rendition of the titular singer’s life, but its profound earnestness makes it a gentle and likeable representation of the easy-going icon, whom Kingsley Ben-Adir portrays in a magnetic lead turn.

Three out of five stars

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