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film review

Bob Marley: One Love

  • Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green
  • Written by Terence Winter, Frank E. Flowers, Zach Baylin and Reinaldo Marcus Green
  • Starring Kingsley Ben-Adir and Lashana Lynch
  • Classification PG; 107 minutes
  • Opens in theatres Feb. 14

The butter isn’t dry on the movie theatre popcorn when the mythologizing begins in the new biopic Bob Marley: One Love. “Bob Marley rose from the humblest beginnings,” reads the introductory onscreen text. “Against all odds, he is Jamaica’s biggest star.”

The film directed by New Yorker Reinaldo Marcus Green and starring England’s Kingsley Ben-Adir is authorized by the reggae icon’s family. They are in the Bob Marley business, and business is booming. All sorts of things are sold in his name – an advertisement for the Stir It Up Wireless Turntable popped up on my social media feed just the other day. It’s made entirely from recycled and recyclable materials. Which brings us to One Love.

It’s a safe, competently made film that dramatizes the things we’ve always been told about the seventies superstar who died of cancer at age 36 and whose biggest-selling album is called Legend. He was above politics (”Every government is illegal,” he says at a press conference); he wasn’t in it for the dough (he gladly helps out a random woman asking for money early in the film); and he wrote a crazy number of great songs.

Why the new biopic Bob Marley: One Love is a family affair

One of those tunes is Redemption Song, an acoustic spiritual released in 1980 but in the works much longer. When did he write it, Marley is asked as he strums it one night at a fire pit. “All my life,” is his answer.

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery

None but ourselves can free our mind

The lyrics resonate in One Love’s account of Marley’s life. Although the film concentrates on the years 1976 to 1978, flashback scenes facilitate his origin story. His mother was Jamaican; his father was an Englishman. He was Norval Sinclair Marley, a former soldier who worked as a plantation supervisor. He disowned his son, and died when Marley was just 10 years old.

In One Love, he is represented in Marley’s vivid dreams as a white soldier man on a horse, emerging from a field of burning crops. The visions are haunting – a man attempting to reconcile his past and a country wrestling with a colonized history. Thus, “songs of freedom.”

Open this photo in gallery:

Lashana Lynch as Rita Marley and Kingsley Ben-Adir as Bob Marley in Bob Marley: One Love from Paramount Pictures.Chiabella James/Handout

The flashbacks thread a brooding, restrained film that covers landmark moments in Marley’s life: taking a bullet in a late-night assassination attempt in his mansion; the making of Marley and the Wailers’ masterpiece album Exodus; the triumphant One Love Peace Concert in Kingston.

One Love would be much more watchable if not for the casting of the unelectric Ben-Adir in the lead. He is a good-looking guy, probably too much so – his beauty is distracting. Though he lost weight for the role, he doesn’t come close to Marley as a blissful, jammin’, malnourished Rastafarian.

Green directed Will Smith in 2021′s King Richard, the story of the idiosyncratic father and coach to tennis phenoms Venus and Serena Williams. Smith, who won an Oscar for the portrayal, lost himself in the character. Ben-Adir, as Marley, just looks lost.

Lashana Lynch, on the other hand, sizzles as Rita Marley, the strong-willed wife who took a bullet in the head during the attempt on her husband’s life. Though “the dreads saved her” is an unintentionally funny line, their love story is compelling enough.

Marley, of course, was famously unfaithful. And while the filmmakers did not hide that character flaw, it was handled discreetly. A flash of a newspaper page with a story about Miss World 1976 was a cryptic clue about his relationship with beauty pageant winner Cindy Breakspeare.

Although One Love is not a great music biopic, it serves as an acceptable portrait of the man.

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