Marking his first film since the Academy Award-winning biopic King Richard, Reinaldo Marcus Green’s latest project Bob Marley One Love stars Kingsley Ben-Adir and Lashana Lynch in a biopic of late Jamaican musician Bob Marley. The film charts the humble beginnings of Marley (Ben-Adir) as he reaches intense heights of fame, culminating in his famous One Love Peace Concert, which took place amid political unrest in Jamaica.
With Marley’s widow Rita, daughter Cedella and son Ziggy among its producers, the film aims to celebrate the life and achievements of the eponymous musician. While it follows the life of the artist, Bob Marley One Love doesn’t feel like a normal biopic that would chart one’s beginnings to their meteoric rise to fame. However, most of the biopic revolves around the later years of his short yet prolific career, including his attempted assassination in 1976 and his work leading to the creation and success of his ninth studio album, Exodus.
As part of a non-linear narrative, the film’s flashbacks of Marley’s childhood, his relationship with Rita, and the early days of his band, Bob Marley and the Wailers. These add gentle insights to his past but these, along with his introduction to the Rastafari movement – a key part of his career – do not add the expected level of poignancy considering the significance of these memories. Instead, they provide breaks during certain points of Marley’s short career that cut the film’s rare yet necessary moments of tension that subsequently falter its pacing.
Meanwhile, Green’s screenplay focuses so much on bringing Marley – as a person – to life that it seems to downplay his legacy as both a campaigner for peace and a musician. Throughout the film, he presents himself as an advocate of the Rastafarian concept ‘One Love‘ amid increasing political turmoil in Jamaica and his actions during the One Love One Peace concert, which saw him join the hands of rivals Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, have since become iconic. However, the film seems to bypass the impact of the concert and how Marley is regarded as a key figure in reggae music 43 years after his death, despite his music being a constant presence as the film’s soundtrack. Therefore, there is a lack of emotional punch despite 104 minutes of build-up, emphasising the biopic’s inconsistent tone, not to mention the underwhelming direction and screenplay.
Thankfully, the engaging lead performances from British actors Ben-Adir and Lynch carry the film – the enigmatic Ben-Adir brilliantly channels Bob’s passion and exuberance for music while Lynch conveys compassion and fire as Rita Marley. Green also allows them to show the emotional strengths and flaws in both characters as they put a united front in front of the camera and on stage, solidifying the heart of the film. Meanwhile, the cast’s eloquent delivery of the Patois dialogue elevates the biopic’s authenticity while celebrating the roots of its eponymous star.
Contextually, Bob Marley One Love offers a glimmer of hope during troubling times but as a biopic, it is mostly underwhelming as the man himself remains an enigma by the time the credits roll. However, Ben-Adir and Lynch shine with their strong performances.
Bob Marley One Love is out in UK cinemas on 14 February.
Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green; Terence Winter, Frank E. Flowers, Zach Baylin (co-screenwriters)
Stars: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Lashana Lynch, James Norton, Sevana
Runtime: 104 minutes