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Bob Marley: One Love (Film Review)

3 min read

Musical biopics are almost as omnipresent as superhero films now. While there were always a few, it's now commonplace to splash an estate-approved celebration of a popular musician – usually for awards purposes. While films like All Eyez On Me, Straight Outta Compton, Stardust and Whitney Huston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody all sort of came and went, the likes of Bohemian Rhapsody, Elvis, The United States vs Billie Holliday and Rocketman all arrived with a huge amount of fanfare. Even as far back as Walk the Line and Ray, music biopics have often meant good box office and awards.

Reinaldo Marcus Green, fresh off the success of biopic King Richard, looks to do the same for reggae legend . Smartly his film doesn't follow the standard born-rise-fame-death narrative, instead choosing to focus on the final years of Marley's life. We find Marley () at the height of his fame in Jamaica, trying to hold a peace concert while the country is in turmoil. After an assassination attempt that nearly kills him, his wife Rita () and his tour manager (Anthony Welsh), he sends his two sons and wife to America, while he exiles himself to London to work on a new album.

For the most part Bob Marley: does feel like a family-approved biopic. It's no shock to find that, just as King Richard had the approval of the Williams sisters, there's a big producing credit for Marley's son Ziggy. Green does set up an interesting situation wherein a figure who preaches love and peace is stuck between two violent political parties in a country on the brink of a civil war, and the film grapples with what it means to want peace in unpeaceful times. It also looks at what being biracial means – though it never totally examines it.

Paramount Pictures

Much like King Richard, the darker edges of the titular character are sanded off, Green once again saves discussions of our lead's infidelity and multiple children for an explosive spousal argument. It's here that the more interesting elements of the film come to the fore. Lynch's Rita is a strong woman, who has a career of her own but understands that to be a family means being a true family. The film, perhaps due to time constraints or perhaps not to sully a good image, omits that Rita had two children before getting with Bob – two daughters Bob then adopted and that Bob himself was a father to many more. The film only shows his two sons, and even then, the most poignant scenes are with Ziggy.

It's when Marley and his band The Wailers are in London coming up with what would be their most successful album – Exodus – that the film looks at what music can mean. A scene of them creating music, complete with someone tapping a teacup is when the film is at its most creative, though undercut somewhat by Ben-Adir not singing. Perhaps best of all is a scene in which we see Marley quietly create his signature song or as he puts it “the song I've been writing my whole life” – Redemption Song.

For his part, Ben-Adir does his best while never really looking like Marley. He has the mannerisms right, and infuses the role with a humanity that biopics sometimes lack, but he only really comes alive when he's allowed to act opposite Lynch who is the film's stand-out performance. While the film has its faults, and perhaps isn't as forensic as it could have been, its message is a simple one – love each other, the rest is just noise.

Bob Marley: One Live is in cinemas from the 16th February