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February 14, 2024 / Paramount Pictures

Starring: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Lashana Lynch, James Norton, Tosin Cole, Anthony Welsh, Michael Gandolfini, Umi Myers, Nadine Marshall

Directed By: Reinaldo Marcus Green

BOB MARLEY: ONE LOVE celebrates the life and music of an icon who inspired generations through his message of love and unity. On the big screen for the first time, discover Bob’s powerful story of overcoming adversity and the journey behind his revolutionary music. Produced in partnership with the Marley family and starring Kingsley Ben-Adir as the legendary musician and Lashana Lynch as his wife Rita.

Written By Darren

Rating 2 out of 5

Bob Marley: One Love effortlessly captures the essence of the famous singer in a portrayal of his life that he would no doubt would have approved of, but his story being told without necessary context renders the film a truly paint by numbers music biopic that does not service the strong performances of Kingsley Ben-Adir and Lashana Lynch.

Bob Marley. You know all the words to his greatest hits, you know his Rastafarian image and messaging of peace, unity, freedom and love, but you may not know much about him as an individual. He’s the latest musician to get the big screen biopic treatment with this year’s Bob Marley: One Love, which focuses on a specific time period in Marley’s life as he rises to international fame with the legendary Exodus album. After years of seeing some of the biggest names in music getting the same treatment, it makes sense that Hollywood would turn next to Marley. And while the film captures Marley’s essence with each frame, with an undeniable clear guidance from his family who serve as producers on the film, Marley’s story is lacking a cinematic aspect that fails to truly bring to life his own story on the big screen, resulting in one of the more disappointing music biopics of late.

Within seconds of appearing on screen, there is no question that Kingsley Ben-Adir has nailed his performance as Bob Marley. Not only does he perfect the Jamaican accent, which at times is hard to catch every word he is saying, Ben-Adir embodies that “don’t worry about a thing ‘cause every little thing is gonna be alright” attitude that has gone on to define Marley. He’s got the charm, the heart and passion that truly brings the singer to life on screen in a way that both the family and Marley’s fans can without hesitation strongly approve of. Opposite him is Lashana Lynch who is wonderful as his wife Rita Marley. While Rita is not featured prominently enough in the film and could have used stronger writing, Lynch instantly steals every scene she has with an excellent performance. There is a strength and fiery passion that she brings to Rita, capturing the love of her husband and wanting to support him and everything he wants to achieve, while also processing her own struggles trying to hold both him and their family together while performing with him on tour. The film comfortably relies on the performances of Ben-Adir and Lynch, who more than rise to the occasion, while the rest of the supporting cast is not given the screen time to have any meaningful impact on the film.

What holds Bob Marley: One Love back from being a great music biopic is its screenplay. On one hand, the screenplay does an admirable job at telling Marley’s story in a non grandiose manner that captures the singer’s view of his own life and music, which acts as an admirable tribute to the singer. It’s the way he would have wanted his story told, and it's clear that the family’s involvement in the film assured that the film is authentically Marley through and through. But, at the same time, it acts as a barrier to giving the audience a true look at Marley’s life. The film mainly focuses on Marley’s life in the mid 1970s beginning with the assassination attempt on him, recording and touring with the Exodus album, and ending with his historic One Love concert in Jamaica that saw him return to Jamaica after relocating to England. It hits all the major moments in his life during the time period the film covers, but the screenplay is missing the context to provide the audience as to what is happening in Marley’s life. Aside from a few lines of text alluding to political and civil unrest in Jamaica at the film’s opening, no information is given as to the situation in Jamaica which is critical to Marley’s story as it informs why there was an assassination attempt on his life, why the people wanted him to perform a unity concert after he moved to England, and why his concert that the film builds towards is so historic. We get little glimpse into the inspiration behind his music or his creative process, with the screenplay playing out like a greatest hits loop track. At the same time, important elements of his life are merely dropped in one scene and never touched on again, making the film feel like it is checking story points off a list that are needed to tell Marley’s story on screen rather than writing them in a manner that gives insight into who Marley was as a person. Walking out of the film, I truly feel like I have learnt very little about Marley and what his music meant to him or the world, leaving the feeling that his Wikipedia page would have been more informative than this film.

Watching a music biopic, there is an expectation of music moments showing the artist that is being immortalized on film in all their glory. But Bob Marley: One Love seems afraid to show Marley in concert, despite that being what audiences want to see in the film and being all over the film’s marketing. We get very few concert scenes, most lacking much energy and one that acts as a montage with the film’s score playing rather than Marley’s music. They all feel like missed opportunities to showcase Marley as an artist, but leaves you with the feeling that the film is consistently building towards its big concert moment. Which makes the film’s decision to omit his One Love concert in Jamaica after building towards it the entire film incredibly baffling. The film does not show this historic concert but instead cuts to the credits, showing a few short clips of the actual concert footage instead. It’s the equivalent of teasing Queen’s Live Aid performance throughout Bohemian Rhapsody and then ending the film without showing any of the Live Aid concert. It was the easiest, most crowd pleasing conclusion to the film that the writers could have written, and the fact they end just as Marley takes the stage for this concert is just a cruel tease to the audience. At least the film’s soundtrack is full of Marley’s greatest hits which minimally satisfies the desire of hearing Marley’s songs in a theatrical setting.

Sitting down for a music biopic, audiences are always looking to be transported to some of the artist’s greatest musical moments, whether it being creating iconic albums or tracks, or recreating infamous performances on the big screen. But it’s the one thing that Bob Marley: One Love refuses to do, despite having pitch perfect casting for Bob and Rita Marley. There is no faulting the talented work of Kinglsey Ben-Adir and Lashana Lynch who are without question the highlights of the film, but the screenplay’s existence in a vacuum does not provide the necessary context to do Bob Marley’s story justice, and the absence of expected music moments the audience wants from such a film renders Bob Marley: One Love a disappointing biopic that despite capturing the artist’s essence perfectly, fails to create an entertaining cinematic experience.

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