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'Bob Marley: One Love' Spotlights The Legend's Legacy

Kingsley Ben-Adir as Bob Marley in Bob Marley: One Love

WHEN BOB MARLEY DIED of cancer in 1981, he seemingly had lived a life at least twice that of his youthful 36 years. He was truly one of the world's first global superstars, famous and lauded from Europe throughout Africa and into America. His image almost mythological to many, his poster adorned the walls of many a dorm room and share house while some even saw him as more than a reggae singer, but as a folk hero, a freedom fighter or even a mildly rebellious signifier for those not quite prepared to wade into the slightly muddier waters of the Che Guevara poster. These days he's a bona fide brand on everything from cigarette lighters to picnic blankets and beyond, his music the number one soundtrack to freedom.

Bob Marley: One Love, a new biopic from director and co-writer Reinaldo Marcus aims to return Marley's image back to earth somewhat, skipping the standard birth-to-grave template of the typical rock biopic and focusses on the last couple of years of his life instead, arguably his most impactful.

When we first meet Marley in the film it's 1976, and he's already a success in the States with a top ten album, his eighth with the Wailers, Rastaman Vibration. There is great civil, political unrest and war in Jamaica, which bubbles furiously when Marly announces a historic concert to promote peace and to coax the warring factions into an agreement. There is an assassination attempt on his people and he, his wife Rita and his manager Don Taylor, who literally took six bullets for his client, are wounded but survive and promptly decamp to London. Upon landing, they're bombarded with punk and disco and overwhelming city sights and lights. They catch an early set by The Clash, while The Bee Gees play over an industry big-wig shoulder rub, where Taylor appears to pocketing a little extra cash for himself with every handshake. From there, Marley and the band set about recording arguably their best album, Exodus.

We see the journey from making music to designing the front cover and beyond. The film occasionally slips into tried and tired troupes of music biopics - the difficult record label A&R guy, for example, convincingly played by Tony Soprano's son, Michael Gandolfini, but it doesn't sit and stew in them. We're also treated to key scenes such as a flashback revealing The Wailing Wailers' audition (performing debut single 'Simmer Down' - hello new favourite), songs like 'Jamming' being recorded (try getting that one out of your head for the next few days) or a strike of inspiration leading to the title of the Exodus album, dreamed up even before the song itself was written. The soundtrack is handled brilliantly, seemingly dodging the impossibly overplayed Marley songs and opting for the lesser known. Yes, we do get 'Three Little Birds' synced into a perfect scene and, 'No Woman, No Cry' is there too, but is it really possible to tire of its beauty?!

Given the involvement of family members, this is very much a painstakingly authorised watered down version of events in the legend’s life, carefully curated to tip its hat to the warts-and-all genre requirements, but having paid them lip service, to return to triumphalism. It does tick boxes, but it refuses to dig deep into the palatable aspects of Marley's persona and address any further complexity, interesting, or considerably more flawed three dimensional characteristics than what's presented here. There is nothing here to have Marley posthumously cancelled by over-woke keyboard warriors. It doesn't address his many infidelities and "relationships" either, but the most well-known of which, with Cindy Breakspeare (Miss World 1976 and mother of Damian), is shown fleetingly in a scene where she watches him perform in a studio. Sidenote -- the real Breakspeare is named in the credits as a consultant to the film.

None of this is not to say isn't an enjoyable movie - British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir is breathtaking and does indeed capture the physicality, grace, charisma and the weird spasmodic dance of Bob Marley, even if his accent might occasionally benefit from subtitles. Lashana Lynch, as Rita, is particularly magnetic, one scene of Marley composing the jaw-dropping 'Turn Your Lights Down Low' especially poignant, shining the light on their loving relationship.

But the entire point of these films is to enrapture new generations and lead them back to the subject's genius, think Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman, or even more further back, Control . For all their flaws and criticisms of historic inaccuracies, these films did breathe new life into these artists' catalogues for younger people. One can't help but feel like Bob Marley deserved a little better to introduce a new audience, something that, thankfully, his amazing music should do alone.

The film does laud the Bob Marley on the poster, the coolest guy in the room for fuss-less fans of the genre who want/need to see music in the cinema. It's solid Saturday night, date night entertainment where, hopefully, you learn a little something and hear some incredible music. More on this soon....

⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2


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