Bob Marley: One Love (2024)

As far as biopics go, Bob Marley: One Love is excruciatingly paint-by-numbers. A superficial skimming of a musical icon’s life, the film barely bothers to scratch the surface of Marley’s rich and complex history, opting for an almost criminal sanitisation, which is going to leave even the most die hard of Marley fans feeling short changed. 

Beginning in 1976, already a household name in Jamaica, we follow Marley (Kingsley Ben-Adir) as he’s on the precipice of global stardom. After an assassination attempt that leaves his wife, Rita (Lashana Lynch), fighting for her life, Marley permanently relocates to London to continue his musical career. 

It’s remarkable how little of a film One Love feels like and the astonishing lack of interest it has for the deeper layers of Marley’s life. Or perhaps it’s fear. One can almost feel the arms of Marley’s estate wrap around the movie, attempting to protect his legacy, infantilising the story and leaving the audience with less than half a film. Hollowed out and paper thin, One Love acts merely as a big screen jukebox, rifling through the greatest hits of Marley’s discography to get the audience to nod along as the those behind the camera keep us in the dark.  Never has a film been so afraid to tell a complete story of its subject as this. Baffling, too, considering Wolf of Wall Street scribe, Terrence Winter, is credited as one of the four writers. You’d expect something resembling narrative grit, rather than a tedious “greatest hits” rendition. 

You can almost see the scissors that were used to cut the film to shreds, painting half a portrait of a man and keeping the more unsavoury and flawed aspects away from eager fans and casual viewers alike. There’s a wafting of drama and whispers of tension throughout the film that never simmer past boiling point. Yes, we get the inevitable confrontation over stolen money and infidelity but never anything beyond. There’s no exploration of Marleys’ racial identity, his relationship with the spiritual that played such a huge role in his life and career. Cindy Breakspeare (Umi Myers), mother of Damien Marley, is relegated to a background extra. Marley’s extramarital affair, that lasted the length of time the film covers is merely a nod. It’s a shame that the final product errs on the side of painfully conventional. Both Ben-Adir and Lynch are giving everything they’ve got in a film that gives nothing back to such talent, and one can see that both actors are eager to sink their teeth into something heartier. 

Bob Marley: One Love feels like it’s doing everything it can to protect the image of the late artist, and its that overprotection that almost completely derails the movie. Given the cooks in the kitchen, while it’s easy to lay the blame at director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s feet, it’s very likely that there was familial interference at hand. A pity, as Marley lived a life worthy of a big screen adaptation, warts and all. Given the message his music carried and what it meant for Jamaica, a story of a flawed figure becoming an icon of peace would have been a more triumphant story. His story deserves better.   

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