Why did it take so long to see a biopic of reggae superstar Bob Marley?
His life and musical legacy offer an endless amount of material, from his cultural cache to music that feels as fresh today as it did during the 1970s.
After watching “Bob Marley: One Love,” starring Kingsley Ben-Adir as the reggae icon, the biggest takeaway is clear. We’re still waiting for a great Marley biopic.
A text scroll announces we’ll enter the Bob Marley story near the end. It’s 1976, and the superstar is prepping to play a peace concert in his war-torn Jamaica.
Huh? Didn’t “One Love” just hopscotch over some potentially rich material? Perhaps. We still could learn plenty from a tightly focused portrait. Every biopic doesn’t demand the “cradle to grave” approach.
The story begins with Marley’s attempt to bridge the political divide in his homeland. Music can change the world, he earnestly believes, and his quasi-apolitical brand could be what his struggling nation needs.
Except the screenplay, credited to four scribes, ditches that element early on to focus on Marley’s “Exodus” album and tour.
We see some insightful peeks behind Marley’s creative process, his tight-knit band of musicians and family members including Rita Marley (Lashana Lynch, excellent when called upon to enliven a scene).
Yet “Marley” never rises to the level of either “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Rocketman” or even the underrated “Get On Up,” the James Brown biopic.
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Director Reinaldo Marcus Green (“King Richard“) can’t convey the majesty of Marley’s live performances. It would be forgivable if he saved his cinematic strength for the smaller moments of the icon’s life. Here, too, he falls back on biopic cliches, lackluster studio re-creations and in-fighting that never rises to a full boil.
One example? A brutal argument between Bob and Rita suggests their complicated relationship. What kept this combustible couple together? Why did he see her as his muse despite copious infidelity?
He famously stepped out on Rita early and often, but the film barely hints at his indiscretions. Marley died at 36 and sired 9 children before he left this mortal coil. (He also adopted two children)
Lynch delivers a fiery turn as the legend’s love, but the story affords her few chances to dig her heels into the part.
EXCLUSIVE CLIP: Jammin’ in the studio 🎶🎧 @BobMarley (played by Kingsley Ben-Adir) performs his 1977 reggae smash “Jamming” alongside his full Wailers band in the upcoming biopic ‘Bob Marley: One Love’
More on the @OneLoveMovie, in theaters Feb 14, at https://t.co/lnpNW7xIqT pic.twitter.com/VO2V87tP3v
— Stephen Marley (@stephenmarley) January 30, 2024
We see glimpses of a young Bob Marley via flashbacks, but the sequences add little to our understanding of the flawed but fascinating singer. The biopic fares better incorporating Marley’s spiritual side, a blend of Rastafarian empowerment and the Bible.
There’s no preaching here, but we see how deeply Marley thought about larger issues than himself. And having multiple Marley members as co-producers means we see few if any, flaws on screen.
“One Love” clocks in well under two hours, a rarity in our bloated film age. That’s admirable, but perhaps a biopic of such an artist deserves a little more screen time, if only to fill in critical gaps.
We learn little about Rastafarian culture, and a quick glimpse of Biography.com’s essay on Marley delivers far more than the film can offer.
They missed a great story, forcing audiences to scramble back to this smart 2012 documentary.
Ben-Adir does an admirable job conveying Marley’s laid-back style, his stage presence and mysterious air. It’s not full-on mimicry, but the actor conveys a musical giant searching for his purpose.
The film, on the other hand, seems less sure of what it wants to be.
At least we have the music, as potent and mesmerizing as ever. “One Love” leans into it aggressively, and it’s like a beloved character who keeps returning to the screen. Few artists delivered such indelible songs.
The end credits offer a hint at what “One Love” is missing. Why the film’s creative team decided to tack it onto the end rather than bring it to dramatic life is a mystery that deserves to be solved.
HiT or Miss: Don’t blame stars Kingsley Ben-Adir or Lashana Lynch for “Bob Marley: One Love’s” failures. Their driven performances keep this mediocre biopic aloft.