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Review: 'Bob Marley: One Love'

Following his death over four decades ago, Bob Marley remains one of the most enduring musicians and activists who ever lived.

The Jamaican reggae pioneer rose to international fame in the 1970s.  He was a singer, guitarist, songwriter and superstar in a short, whirlwind career that ended in 1981 when he was just 36 years old. In that span of time, he had amassed a legion of fans, introduced the world to his own blend of music and affected real political change. 

His songs sought to bring peace to the civil war raging in Jamaica, urging people to find common ground and stop the violence.  It was a message and mission that went on to resonate throughout the world.

From humble beginnings in poverty, Marley managed to rise up, find his unique voice and defy all odds, like many musicians of his generation, who managed to become financially successful and famous despite a lack of formal musical training.   Like Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan or The Beatles, he was born with a tremendous gift that would not be denied.

Marley’s story is the story of pure, raw talent that conquers everything in its path.  It is an inspiring story to every aspiring musician with a dream.

As is always the case, it is a journey not without obstacles and pitfalls. 

The movie begins with the famous attempt on Marley’s life when assassins entered his compound and opened fire, injuring Marley and several members of his entourage.  It was an act fueled by the political tension in Jamaica a the time that had led to polarization and the beginning of a bloody civil war.  Caught up on the violence, Marley made it his life mission to somehow bring peace and understanding to his countrymen through his music.

Bob Marley: One Love does a good job of showing the backstory to his rise to fame.  In the opening reel, he and two of his young sons are caught in the crossfire of armed gunmen.  They escape in the back seat of a car with Marley telling them not to worry, that everything would be alright, words that would later become the lyrics of one of his many hit songs.

There is reverence and authenticity in Bob Marley: One Love.  Marley’s son, Ziggy, was one of the producers. 

As one might expect, the film is a loving tribute underscoring Marley’s immense talent as well as his passionate dedication to politics and humanity.  The musical sequences of the rehearsals and concert performances are recreated with real attention to detail.  The musicians convincingly perform the songs, including the movie’s star Kingsley Ben-Adir who did a crash course in guitar prior to the filming. 

Ben-Adir also did a crash course on mimicking Marley’s speech which was a non-standard, personalized version of Marley’s native tongue.  Marley’s family provided Ben-Adir with hours of audio tapes to help him get it just right. 

Much of the Bob Marly: One Love preparation happened when Ben Adir was working on the Barbie movie (appearing as one of the Ken characters).  The result is a mixed bag.

While it’s clear that he’s captured Marley’s speech and dialect, he does it so well that it is often hard to understand.  It begs the question of whether the thick accent should have been dialed back a bit or whether subtitles might have been used more extensively to help the audience understand the dialog.

From a visual standpoint, Bob Marley: One Love is a thing of beauty, captured with the look of natural light.  The technical credits are solid with respect to the direction, casting, acting, shooting and editing. 

The music is a movie version of Marley’s Greatest Hits, a compilation of his incredible body of work.

Marley was a unique, free-spirited man who lived his life full tilt, until his untimely, early death.  That is reflected in his professional life as well as his personal life.  Though he remained married to one woman (Rita Marley, played by Lashana Lynch) over his entire career, there were numerous lovers and love children along the way who are only briefly mentioned in the movie.  He reportedly had 11 children by seven different mothers.

Biographical films are always the products of choices and decisions about what to include and what not to include.  The choices are especially tough when one of the producers is the son of the person portrayed.  Objectivity is impossible.  What is possible however is attention to detail taken to a whole other level, and Bob Marley: One Love certainly delivers on that.  It is a look at a pop icon from someone very close to him who was a first-hand witness.

There is a short clip of Ziggy Marley preceding the film, speaking directly to the camera and identifying himself and his involvement in the film.  It’s a great way to set the stage.

In the end, Bob Marley: One Love may not be a great film.  Movies like this face the daunting task of trying to crunch the details of a lifetime—even a lifetime cut short—into just a couple of hours of screen time. 

The movie manages to do a reasonably good job.  It captures the essence of Bob Marley and reminds us why he and his music will be around forever.  At any point in time, now and in the future, someone, somewhere will be inspired by Bob Marley’s music, to muster their courage and stand up for their rights.


Photo Credits: Chiabella James/Copyright 2023 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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