‘Bob Marley: One Love’ movie review: Opaque biopic elevated by Kingsley Ben-Adir’s performance

For the numerous fans of Bob Marley, the film “Bob Marley: One Love” presents an opportunity to delve into the melodies that shaped their youth, punctuated by the spirit of rebellion and a yearning for change. Directed by the talented Reinaldo Marcus Green, known for his acclaimed work on “King Richard” which earned Will Smith an Oscar amid the controversy of an altercation at the awards, the biopic glances at the most noteworthy songs and milestones of Marley’s career.

The narrative, mostly linear with occasional shifts in time, centers on a critical period in Marley’s life from 1976 to 1978. It zeroes in on the harrowing assassination attempt on December 3, 1976, just two days before the intended Smile Jamaica concert. This free event was meant to promote peace between politically divided factions. Bob Marley, portrayed by Kingsley Ben-Adir, his wife Rita (Lashana Lynch), and manager Don (Anthony Welsh) were attacked in Marley’s home. The attack left Rita and Don with severe injuries, while Marley sustained superficial wounds to his chest and arm. Despite the attempt on his life, the concert proceeded as scheduled.

In the wake of the assault, Marley relocated to England, sending Rita and his children, including Ziggy Marley—who serves as a producer of the film—to Delaware in the United States to stay with his mother. During his time in London, Marley finds himself arrested for possession of marijuana. Feeling musically incomplete without his wife, he beckons Rita to join him in England as he seeks to foster a new sound.

This reunion paves the way for the creation of “Exodus,” an album that would elevate the already popular Marley to a pedestal of international stardom. The film touches lightly on the development of the album, mentioning how Marley chose its title after hearing the soundtrack of the film “Exodus” and prior to composing the song itself, finding it to be the perfect name for his tenth studio effort.

Marley found himself at odds not only with music publicist Howard Bloom (Michael Gandolfini), troubled by the album cover’s absence of Marley’s face and the biblical font choice, but also with his own songwriting. Despite skepticism about the appeal of such creative decisions to the youth, Marley’s instinct proved unerring as the album achieved global platinum success.

However, the relentless tour schedule strained relationships with both Rita and Don and took a toll on Marley’s health. Ignoring a persistent toe injury, attributed in the film to a football mishap—though it was later revealed to be a symptom of aggressive skin cancer—Marley avoided medical attention until it was too late. His refusal to have surgery that would interrupt his tours marked the beginning of a tragic decline in his health. The film culminates with his heroic comeback at the One Love Peace Concert in Jamaica in April 1978.

The movie’s conclusion features title cards summarizing Marley’s passing in 1981 at the young age of 36 and his dream-come-true performance in Africa. Additionally, archival footage of the legendary musician complements Ben-Adir’s portrayal, capturing Marley’s characteristic dreadlocks, charm, and spiritual essence. Lashana Lynch’s depiction of Rita is fiery and passionate, while James Norton as record producer Chris Blackwell provides solid support.

Though the film offers glimpses into Marley’s Rastafarian beliefs and his struggle with feelings of abandonment stemming from his father’s rejection, these issues are touched upon lightly and left largely unexplored. “Bob Marley: One Love” serves as a brisk introduction to Marley’s work, presenting a compilation of his hits, notably missing “Buffalo Soldier.”

As the film is currently screening in cinemas, it invites both old fans and newcomers to the music scene to experience a taste of Bob Marley’s legacy, although it may leave some craving a deeper, more detailed portrayal of the iconic musician’s life and cultural impact.

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