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Review: ‘Bob Marley: One Love’ jams to the beat of his drum

‘Bob Marley: One Love’ is the story of how a failed assassination attempt led to a gold record album

A scene from 'Bob Marley: One Love' courtesy of Paramount Pictures
A scene from 'Bob Marley: One Love' courtesy of Paramount Pictures

‘Bob Marley: One Love’ is the story of how political unrest and a failed assassination attempt led to the creation of a gold record album.

Regardless of how much one knows about his life, Bob Marley left a legacy centred on peace, love and music. He died far too young, but led movements to unite his country and wrote songs to spread his message. He was passionate about how he felt for those around him and a survivor who fought until the end. He was a husband, father, friend, Rastafari, musician, artist and icon with each of those things supporting and complementing the other. Bob Marley: One Love is the story of a brief period in his life that saw two concerts for peace and the creation of an epic album.

Bob Marley (Kingsley Ben-Adir) was born in Jamaica before Britain relinquished control of the country. He was the son of a British soldier who would not acknowledge him. As a teen, his mother moved to the United States while he remained in Jamaica, where met his wife, Rita (Lashana Lynch). His band, originally The Wailing Wailers, established itself as a top reggae ensemble and gained widespread popularity. Marley’s concert for peace was met with a lot of resistance from both sides of the country’s political conflict as he refused to support either party. After a failed assassination attempt, he moved to London, where he would write “Exodus,” the band’s top-selling album. He died of cancer at age 36.

The movie covers one of the most significant years in Marley’s life as he went from a near-death experience and almost losing those closest to him to releasing an album that Time magazine would later declare is the best album of the 20th century. The story is interspersed with flashbacks to Marley’s childhood and teen years, featuring his only memory of his father, meeting his wife, embracing Rastafari and recording their first album. It was a chaotic time balanced with electric creativity that would inspire some of the band’s most memorable songs. But Marley was not without his faults and the film does not paint the portrait of a perfect man, but one that was deeply loved and passionate about his lyrical message.

Marley’s family was very much involved in the making of the movie, so it’s not surprising the disparaging parts of his life are minimized, but not absent. Similarly, Marley remained neutral when it came to politics, but they had a significant influence on him. So, the narrative contains high-level political drama afflicting Jamaica in the 1970s without more detailed explanations of the conflict. Naturally, the music is like a character in the picture, expressing love, outrage and hope, reflecting the emotions of the characters and their environment.

Casting is even more crucial in biopics as people are likely already familiar with the protagonists and have a frame of reference for the performance. Fortunately, Ben-Adir is well casted, mimicking Marley’s appearance and mannerisms to a tee. More importantly, he captures his energy. Yet, Ben-Adir’s performance is outshined by Lynch who embraces the challenge of portraying a still-living person and excels in playing a woman in the very difficult position of being in love with a man who is also an icon. Her strength is unwavering, even in times when most people would succumb to their vulnerabilities.

Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Starring: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Lashana Lynch and James Norton

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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