Bob Marley: One Love follows the luminous reggae icon during a period of violent political upheaval in Jamaica and his exile in London after a shocking assassination attempt. These seminal years before his tragic death from cancer resulted in the production of Exodus, dubbed by Time magazine as the greatest album of the 20th century. One Love’s sublime lead performances, soul-stirring musical soundtrack, and depiction of Marley’s Rastafarian beliefs are unfortunately told in a Wikipedia-styled narrative of biopic bullet points. The film never explores Marley in-depth and often breezes over critical events of his storied life.
An opening card sets the stage for a tragedy to come. In 1976, Jamaica was being ripped apart by warring gangs loyal to the People’s National Party (PNP) leader, Prime Minister Michael Manley, and his political adversary, the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) Edward Seaga. Bob Marley (Kingsley Ben-Adir) was already a global superstar. We see him driving through government roadblocks with his children. He’s stopped by aggressive policemen for his dreadlocks before they realize it’s Jamaica’s favorite son.
Marley meets his wife, back-up singer, and the root of his extraordinary success at the beach. Rita (Lashana Lynch) knows authorities treat Rastafarians worse than common criminals. She brushes off the encounter as a normal part of his daily routine. They discuss meeting the band for a practice session at their house that night in Kingston. Bob Marley and the Wailers were headlining a concert, Smile Jamaica, to stop the violence ripping their beloved island country apart.
Kingsley Ben-Adir as Bob Marley
Bob Marley: One Love
- Release Date
- February 14, 2024
- Paramount PicturesPlan B Entertainment, Tuff Gong Pictures,
- Kingsley Ben-Adir and Lashana Lynch are fantastic as Bob and Rita Marley.
- The music of One Love and the depiction of the creative process behind his songs are enjoyable throughout the film.
- The film fails to go in-depth into Bob Marley’s life, skipping significant moments throughout the musician’s career.
- Bob Marley: One Love needed to tell a far more intricate story, and some of the oversights are detrimental to the narrative.
The band smokes ganja as they tune their instruments and get ready to jam. Marley’s vibrant presence energizes the room as the music soars. Everyone feels prepared to unite Jamaica in harmony. Rita leaves to run an errand as Marley and their manager, Don Taylor (Anthony Welsh), converse in the kitchen. They don’t realize that gunmen have infiltrated the courtyard and are about to storm the house.
One Love takes place primarily in the murderous aftermath but also periodically flashbacks to Marley’s youth. The biracial son of a white plantation overseer, Marley was cruelly rejected by an absent father (Daniel Melville Jr.). He remembers being a young man (Quan-Dajai Henriques) in desperately poor Trench Town and meeting a teenage Rita (Nia Ashi), who introduced him to Rastafari, the religion that would guide Marley to prosperity. These scenes are juxtaposed with Marley and the Wailers recording in London. He searches for a new sound to encompass his desire for compassion and peace. A sentiment shared by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell (James Norton), a stalwart supporter responsible for bringing Marley’s music to a global audience.
Let’s start with what works. Ben-Adir is tremendous as Marley. He nails Marley’s vocal inflections, incredible stage presence, and distinct mannerisms. Ben-Adir delivers a thoughtful performance that’s more than mimicry. That said, Lynch nearly steals the show as the film’s emotional backbone. She’s extraordinary as a woman struggling to accept the result of Marley’s omnipresent fame.
Rita took care of their children, including the many he fathered with other women, provided an unvarnished opinion of his songwriting, and was critically wary of the leeches stealing money at every turn. Lynch gives Rita the long overdue recognition as Marley’s anchor through the storm. Her powerful monologues address ugly truths Marley sometimes didn’t want to hear.
The Superb Lashana Lynch as Rita Marley
One Love’s music is a beautiful joy to behold. The film shows Marley’s intimate creative process. Scenes of Marley, Rita, and the Wailers in their British studio are sonic highlights. His poetic lyrics and brilliant guitar progressions provided rocket fuel to a talented supporting ensemble. Marley conducts orchestral magic as they weave together legendary reggae songs in a smoky marijuana haze. Everyone understood the importance of that specific moment in time. They had fled Jamaica for safety but were keenly aware of the continuing turmoil. Marley knew that Exodus had to be an inspirational and transformative experience.
Director Reinaldo Marcus Green (Joe Bell, King Richard), along with acclaimed screenwriters Terence Winter (The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire) and Frank E. Flowers (Haven, Shooting Stars), are never granular in their approach. They chose this period of Marley’s life because of his attempted killing, and the events after that led to a triumphant return to Jamaica. Casual glimpses of Marley and the Wailers as an early ska band aren’t enough exposition to explain why he became reggae and Jamaica’s ambassador. How did Marley meet Chris Blackwell? Why aren’t Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, and Aston Barrett, pivotal musical figures and the definitive Wailers, barely mentioned? These oversights are a major flaw in the narrative.
Marley’s poor childhood and struggle in poverty, rise to stardom during Jamaica’s independence from colonial Britain, and other instrumental figures cannot be glossed over. His indomitable spirit wasn’t forged in a vacuum. Marley sang anthems of Black oppression and the burning desire for justice, equality, and freedom for all. His words from the classic Redemption Song, “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind, how long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look,” can never be allowed to ring hollow. Bob Marley: One Love needed to tell a far more intricate story but can at least be acknowledged for its positive tenets.
Bob Marley: One Love is a production of Plan B Entertainment, State Street Pictures, and Tuff Gong Pictures. It will be released theatrically on Feb. 14 from Paramount Pictures.