“Bob Marley: One Love” Film Review

Tell the truth, even if it's messy.

The highly anticipated film, “Bob Marley: One Love” is a hollow look into the life of cultural icon, Jamaican musician Bob Marley. Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green (“King Richard”) the film stars Kingsley Ben-Adir as Bob Marley and Lashana Lynch as Rita Marley.

A positive of having Rita Marley as an Execuive Producer was the fact that the film emphasized her role in his life and told their love story. Bob and Rita shared close to equal amounts of screen time which was refreshing as oftentimes spouses in films are an afterthought. In many biopics, especially those about musicians, the spouses lack character development and are mere props regulated to child-rearing scenes or to provide sexual gratification.

Coincidentally, though wonderfully cast in their respective roles, Kingsley and Lynch didn’t have any on-screen chemistry. Especially in comparison to the flashback scenes at the beginning of their relationship, Bob seemed to adore Rita. The younger talent cast as Bob and Rita (actors Quan-Dajai Henriques and Nia Ashi) were excellent in depicting how two teens, each lacking a parental figure were bonded by music and the Rastafarian religion. As adults, it appeared as if Bob loved Rita but was not in love with her. Yet their shared history and Rita’s contribution to Bob’s music kept them together. At times their indifference for each other was so palpable, that it’s as if it was intentionally scripted for them to act that way.

Moreover, a perceived drawback of having the family, specifically wife Rita Marley, her son Ziggy (his wife Orly), and daughter Cedella Marley so heavily involved in the production of the film is the glossing over of the flagrant extramarital affairs throughout Bob and Rita’s relationship. There was one scene where during an argument, Rita acknowledged taking care of Bob’s out-of-wedlock kids. There’s a nameless woman in the background of the studio sessions and the movie implied there may have been one affair while he was recording in London. In actuality, Bob was a notorious philanderer who had eleven kids by seven women; three kids (Stephen, Robert, and Rohan) were all born in 1972, on April 20, May 16th, and May 19th. That year alone is a movie in itself! The juxtaposition of Bob being a prolific artist as well as a womanizer would have given “One Love” more depth. Instead, we’re given repetitive flashback scenes from his childhood and how his father abandoning him impacted his life. Knowing this, are we supposed to give Bob grace for his treatment of women? The film tries to go inside Bob’s mind without letting us know why we’re there.

It’s understandable to want to deemphasize Bob’s messy personal life and instead place more emphasis on the music, the making of the album, “Exodus” (1977), the importance of his Rastafarian religion, and the political warfare that was happening in Jamaica at the time. Moreover, even with that directive, a seemingly colossal task, the audience didn’t leave full. In depicting such a sanitized retelling of Bob Marley’s life, one would think his family wasn’t involved when in actuality they were probably overly involved in fighting to ensure that the film only showed the most positive, Christ-like version of a man possible. The sanctity troupe reaches inconceivable heights when Bob leaves London and returns to his home in Jamaica. While in his kitchen ruminating over his assassination attempt suddenly, with no security for Bob in sight, one of the former assailants appears, asks for forgiveness, and grace is extended. Really?

The ending of the film was also a missed opportunity to give more insight into the historical importance of the One Love Peace concert of 1978 when the two opposing political leaders came together and shared the stage with Bob. The build-up to that scene had the potential to have the audience on the edges of their seats as former Prime Minister Michael Manley and Opposition Leader Edward Seaga arrived at the National Stadium. Instead, we’re given archival footage of that moment as the credits roll. Did no one think to write a compelling scene where all three of these revered leaders have a conversation about the gravity of what they’re doing for the country? How did Bob and Rita feel the next morning after accomplishing something of that magnitude? The scene that was the epicenter of the film was anticlimactic.

In the film, Bob mentions several times that he wants to tour Africa however, we aren’t made privy as to why he’s so passionate about it. Via the ending credits, we learn that Bob accomplished his goal, performing at Zimbabwe’s Independence Day celebration in 1980. Bob died from skin cancer in 1981 at the age of 36.

When we immortalize our favorite artists, we often forget how young they were at the time. At the height of his fame, Marley was in his late twenties into his mid-thirties, those are years when you’re not supposed to have everything figured out. The film needed more vulnerability in regards to Bob having so many societal pressures at such a young age. There were only two moments in the film when we see Bob become visibly upset, but for the most part, he handles everything from his cancer diagnosis to confronting his assailant, while being cool, calm, and collected. In place of heavy dialogue at pivotal moments, the decision to rely on non-verbal acting fell short. Conversely, when important things were being said, the audience missed out on dialogue that should have been captioned. Instead, we’re left straining to understand the concerted efforts of British actors vying for authenticity with their Jamaican patois.

Kingsley Ben-Adir as Bob Marley was charismatic and engaging. He’s a phenomenal actor who did the best he could and he was absolutely capable of giving even more if the script had more depth.

Overall “One Love” isn’t a horrible film however in its quest to portray Bob Marley as a deity it forgets that you can pay homage to a legend while acknowledging their imperfections.