THE STORY – Jamaican singer-songwriter Bob Marley overcomes adversity to become the most famous reggae musician in the world.
THE CAST – Kingsley Ben-Adir, Lashana Lynch, James Norton, Michael Gandolfini, Nadine Marshall & Michael Ward
THE TEAM – Reinaldo Marcus Green (Director/Writer), Terrence Winter, Frank E. Flowers & Zach Baylin (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 104 Minutes
After a slew of last year’s Hollywood traditional biopics such as “Maestro,” “Nyad,” and “Rustin,” it feels that this genre of film has reached a point of stasis. There’s only so much a filmmaker can do to differentiate a biopic on a technical level, let alone story-wise. Still, studios are content with pushing these films out to get audiences to fill up movie theaters despite that demographic inconsistently turning up in person. Maybe a film about the life of legendary musician Bob Marley would change that? He was a powerhouse talent, but his music connected with many on a somewhat spiritual level. Reinaldo Marcus Green’s “Bob Marley: One Love” tries to show why Marley was this magnetic figure who influenced the world with his art. Instead, it fails to deviate from the typical routine of studio biopics, leaving audiences with little to remember.
“Bob Marley: One Love” follows the life of the iconic reggae artist (played by Kingsley Ben-Adir) towards the tail end of the 1970’s. At this time, Jamaica is amid political unrest, hindering Marley’s ability to perform as an artist and threatening his family’s safety. The decision to focus on this period of Marley’s life, mainly the creation of his renowned album “Exodus,” is far and away the best aspect of the film’s formulaic screenplay. Most biopics attempt to cover an entire subject’s life in very little time. This leads to much to be desired for exploring on screen but never properly executed. Ben-Adir completely disappears into his performance, easily being the main reason for audiences to watch. There’s an energy that he possesses that elevates everyone around him. The performance can be mimicky at moments, yet Ben-Adir’s chameleonic nature is always impressive. The range he exhibits in this compared to his performance as Malcolm X in “One Night in Miami” is astounding. Lashana Lynch, an incredibly underrated talent, plays Marley’s wife, Rita. Unfortunately, she’s given the raw end of the deal in the film as her character is severely underwritten. The screenplay relegates Rita to the very basic role of spouse until some of the film’s few scenes of conflict deem it necessary for her to do more. Lynch has a few moments to shine, but the film never lives up to the caliber of actress she is. Besides these two actors, no one else in the cast stands out. This film is, first and foremost, the Ben-Adir showcase.
Reinaldo Marcus Green’s direction doesn’t feel as engaging as his previous feature, “King Richard” (also a biopic). Green swaps capturing tennis matches for live musical performances, yet it never feels as riveting as the former. Most of the musical sequences are poorly shot, with Ben-Adir lip-signing and trying to replicate Marley’s loose nature on stage. There’s just a feeling you can’t shake with how artificial it comes off sometimes, often leaving one to wonder when you should be dialed into the artist’s performance. The best sequences involving music are where Marley is figuring out new sounds he wants to experiment with. The scene where Marley gets inspired by the score of “Exodus” and slowly creates a song with the Wailers was fun to watch play out. Whenever the film slows down, it allows actors like Ben-Adir and Lynch to dig deeper into their performance, which is where the movie shines. While “Bob Marley: One Life” mainly takes place in one specific period, flashbacks of Marley’s adolescence appear throughout the movie. These flashbacks are some of the weakest aspects of the film’s structure as they are a lazy attempt to contextualize certain relationships or motivations for characters. The script barely does anything to deepen this through dialogue or the characters’ actions in the present, so it relies on these flashbacks to do much of the heavy lifting of explaining things to the audience. There are also dream-like sequences that represent a conflicting internal struggle Marley is experiencing within himself. While some of the imagery is well captured, it primarily serves as a heavy-handed metaphor that beats itself over viewer’s heads. It’s baffling at what the screenplay decides to focus on and what it breezes over. By the end of “Bob Marley: One Love,” significant developments between characters seem to be glossed over due to the film rushing to wrap up. Surprisingly, despite its inconsistent pacing, the film never feels like it overstays its welcome.
Of course, it’s appreciated that “Bob Marley: One Love” was filmed in Jamaica. While some of the performance sequences implement green screens, seeing the beautiful environments of Jamacia never got old. It’s easy to see why Marley had such adoration for the country that raised him and forever inspired the art he created. It’s also cool to see how Green implements actual relatives of The Wailers to play the band members in the film. A level of care was applied to “Bob Marley: One Love” as the Marley family was heavily involved in the production. While it’s always great to have the respect and the approval of the family, it does lead to some of Marley’s life being sanitized on screen. While that might be a good thing, it usually leads to a less interesting artistic depiction of someone’s life. Marley had a fascinating aurora. It’s easy to see why those around him were spellbound by his curiosity about life, his moral convictions, and how he could use his music to help heal people’s hearts and minds. Sadly, “Bob Marley: One Love” won’t have as much of a lasting impact, as it’s a pretty forgettable viewing experience.