Review: Bob Marley – One Love

Musical biopic with a mystical edge. Could have been a little longer?

It is the mid-1970s, and Jamaica is in turmoil since gaining its independence from the United Kingdom. Musical sensation and icon of the country, Bob Marley, plans to put on a show to lessen hostilities. But is his chilled demeanour more naiveté than enlightenment?

Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green (King Richard) and starring Kingsley Ben-Adir (from several TV shows including Peaky Blinders, but also 2023’s Barbie) and Lashana Lynch (No Time to Die) the film follows an already prolific musician in Jamaica rise to global phenomenon in the face of tremendous adversity.

Unlike other musician biopics recently (Rocket Man, Bohemian Rhapsody) this is a refreshing change of pace. We don’t start at the very beginning of Marley’s journey, we start with him well established in Jamaica, announcing a show that will bring a peaceful perspective to the two warring sides. We are led to believe the clout he has is real; that he is capable of making a difference. There are producers and stage crews on hand, the band is willing. But unsettlingly, shootings occur regularly in the neighbourhoods, the political situation is boiling over. Many, including his wife Rita, see Marley’s heavily political music stylings will drag all of them into dangers that should be avoided…

In retrospect, Marley’s music is evergreen and ever-present even today. Despite this phenomenon reaching its height in the 70s and 80s, you still hear and resonate with his music. And the film, of course, is loaded with his music to the point of bursting.

But in terms of tone, the story starts very intensely. We have the preparations for a show, but the backdrop of intense political feuds and killings sours any hope our band has; their music surely will only stoke the flames higher. As the story progresses, the Bob Marley the world knows starts to emerge as the band goes on the famous Exodus world tour.

The jamming session scenes felt alive and full of chemistry.

The performances are very good, as you would hope from a biopic. Kingsley Ben-Adir and Lashana Lynch deliver great chemistry and energy to their roles, with Ben-Adir going smoothly between the chilled-out vibe to the near frantic possession state that is Marley’s stage presence. The supporting cast play off each other well; there is a good sense of camaraderie within the band itself, while the distinctly British and American presence in the producers and studio executives play off them wonderfully.
It might be politically charged, as one might expect, but it does have a levity and an earnestness to it which is quite captivating. Along with this, is a strong undercurrent of mysticism and spirituality throughout everything Marley does and believes. As someone ignorant of a great deal of Marley’s life, the film felt very eye-opening and important to me.

Perhaps the only drawback, and it is mostly a nit-pick, is that the film could have benefitted being slightly longer. A film being too short, too long, or just right is subjective between viewers, and usually a movie outstaying its welcome is far worse than ending too soon… But for this story, and for this personality, more time could have been given to the vibe; the relaxed, peaceful nature that Marley wanted to exist within. The screenplay is very intent on not losing the audience, but as a result it does become a little too “by the numbers”, and loses some of its own identity. Heck, they don’t even really express how drug fuelled everything was. At least not overtly.

A more vibe-intense, slower pace could have made the film more shocking and violent when reality crashes into our characters and the audience.

But that is a style choice and reasonably subjective. Overall, the film was a good time and it had all the right emotional cues and chemistry to hit nerves in the right way.

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