Bob Marley: One Love

Kingsley Ben-Adir has played Malcolm X in One Night in Miami, one of the Kens in Barbie, and now the most beloved reggae singer of all time in Bob Marley: One Love. That’s an impressive trifecta of icons. The actor is very effectively cast in this biopic, which takes a slightly different form than many of them. Despite some undeniable flaws, the work of Ben-Adir and Lashana Lynch (as Rita Marley) keeps the film afloat.

The story covers just a few years of its subject’s life. Beginning scenes find Marley staging a concert designed to bring together warring factions in his native Jamaica. Not everyone likes that idea, leading to an incident where an intruder breaks into his house and shoots him. Until things calm down, he sends Rita and the kids to America while he ventures to London to record what will become the legendary Exodus album. His career explodes further, but the desire to go home never leaves. Continuing his message of love and peace, Marley works toward returning to the country he adores.

To be clear, Bob Marley: One Love has a few serious problems. Chief among them is that the relationship between Bob and Rita is underdeveloped. We never fully grasp the dynamic between the couple, a union that is complicated by infidelity on both sides. More scenes together would have provided a stronger contrast between his successful professional life and occasionally troubled personal life. Similarly, the Marleys’ children are practically invisible here, seen only around the edges without any substantive scenes of Bob interacting with them. Given their prominence in carrying on his legacy, sidelining the kids is an odd choice.

Bob Marley: One Love is more rewarding in other areas. The film’s biggest strength is its relatively low-key approach. Most musical biopics, like Bohemian Rhapsody and Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance with Somebody, present everything their central figures do as iconic. This movie depicts Marley as a man, not as an idol. Emphasis is on his devotion to Rastafarianism, along with his belief that – as he puts it – the music and the message are inseparable. It’s refreshing to see one of these films that doesn’t put a flashing neon sign on every scene.

Kingsley Ben-Adir captures Marley’s stage persona without falling into mere impersonation. He creates a believable portrait of a man who knows music has a healing quality and is intent on utilizing that power. You buy him as the character rather than sitting there noticing the performance techniques. Lashana Lynch is equally terrific, especially during a confrontational moment between Bob and Rita. The emotional quality she brings to the picture is among its best factors. Together, the stars guarantee the humanity in the plot shines through.

Bob Marley: One Love certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to musical biopics. It is, however, a dramatically absorbing story. Director Reinaldo Marcus Green (King Richard) ensures the concert sequences have meaning and Marley’s ideals are at the movie’s heart.

out of four

Bob Marley: One Love is rated PG-13 for marijuana use and smoking throughout, some violence, and brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 47 minutes.

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan