Bob Marley
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‘Bob Marley: One Love’: A serviceable biopic that is saved by its soundtrack

It is the songs that end up dominating, although they have to fight against slick staging in this recreation of the life of the Jamaican genius

Bob Marley: One Love
Kingsley Ben-Amir in 'Bob Marley: One Love.'
Javier Ocaña

When making the cinematographic biography of a popular music star, filmmakers always have two essential options. They can choose to tell their full life story from birth to death or, at least, a broad journey that helps understand the significance not only of their music but also of their personality. Or they can focus on a much shorter period, the musician’s most significant artistic aspect, or on their personal core, either of which ends up forming a multifaceted portrait. In the first case, the danger is making something superficial. The director goes all the way, but skims over everything without sinking the knife into anything. In the second case, the threat comes because not all artists have an imposing dramatic core that encompasses them as artists and as human beings.

In Bob Marley: One Love, the new biopic about the legendary Jamaican musician, the director Reinaldo Marcus Green and producers Brad Pitt, Marley’s widow, and his children (Rita, Ziggy, and Cedella), did not decide on one option or the other and tried to cover both. They chose the right period, a short time span that goes from the prelude to the December 1976 concert at the National Heroes Park in Kingston (Jamaica) to the One Love peace concert in April 1978. Jamaica at the time was in turmoil. Marley’s 1976 concert had been turned into a political event by its organizer, the then Prime Minister Michael Manley, who called elections to take advantage of the star’s momentum. However, the time was not right for political grandstanding, and after 18 months of escalating violence, it led Jamaica to the brink of civil war. This prompted Marley himself to organize his own concert as a way to seek a national reconciliation. It was a year and a half in which Marley’s personal and artistic life took a huge turn and in which the events of all kinds — musical, political, criminal, and even health — had enough dramatic significance to leave him well-defined there.

Lashana Lynch and Kingsley Ben-Amir play Rita and Bob Marley in the film.
Lashana Lynch and Kingsley Ben-Amir play Rita and Bob Marley in the film.

However, in a film that Terence Winter — one of the prestigious screenwriters of The Sopranos and creator of Boardwalk Empire — began writing, the audience gets the impression that the creators, including the director himself ended up putting in too many tricks and that they were not satisfied with only a year and a half of Marley’s life. They filled the film with insubstantial flashbacks (musical, religious, and even serials) that try to round out Marley’s character, but that only blur the image.

Among other criticisms, the academic staging by the director — as already demonstrated in The Williams Method (the biopic about the tennis-playing sisters Venus and Serena and their father) — becomes snooty and somewhat bombastic. It relies too heavily on the dichotomy between the absence of the biological father (Marley was the son of a white British soldier about whom he knew nothing and of whom he only kept a photo) and the presence of a kind of spiritual father, recreated in the ghostly figure of the Ethiopian leader Haile Selassie, whom the musician idolizes.

Now, although Marley’s womanizing side is also conspicuous by its absence, not everything is so reprehensible in the film. As custom dictates, it is the music that ends up dominating, and in that sense so does the pleasure of watching the creative process of an album as legendary as Exodus, also conceived in that year and a half of dread and fury, pain and success. Bob Marley: One Love is closer to the lightness of Bohemian Rhapsody and other biopics of musicians made in the early 2000s (mainly, Ray) than to the energy of Rocketman, and so lovers of more conventional biopics may like it. But in the end, Marley’s imposing personality and the musical, social, and political vigor of his songs come to the aid of the film.

Bob Marley: One Love

Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green.

Starring: Kingsley Ben-Amir, Lashana Lynch, James Norton, Anthony Welsh. 

Genre: Biopic. USA, 2024.

Duration: 104 minutes.

Premiere: February 14.

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