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  • Nate Adams

'Bob Marley: One Love' review: Biopic never conveys the legacy

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures


Musical biopics are usually hit or miss when it comes to the subject it’s dissecting. Often, it’s the latter as the film, usually made with the strict input of the estate, has a certain image it wants to project for mass audiences. It then becomes a question of what the eventual goal of the movie is supposed to be: Does it care about the icon it’s exploring? Or was it manufactured for the purpose of lifting record and streaming sales? Unfortunately, “Bob Marley: One Love” doesn’t find itself in the company of “good” biopics, rather, it’s a movie that fails to understand the impact Bob Marley had on not only the music industry, but the world at large.


Awkwardly spliced together and possessing all the depth of a Wikipedia page, “Bob Marley: One Love” might have all the musical rights at its disposal, but those looking for context won’t find much. Which is shocking considering co-writer and director Reinaldo Marcus Green delivered a major crowd-pleaser with the Will Smith vehicle “King Richard,” a movie that understood its purpose completely. But when you’re dealing with a figure like Marley, and most of his children share an associate producer’s credit, creative freedom likely goes out the window. It’s probably a main reason Marley’s infidelities are only mentioned in passing or his attempted assassination has no gravity. 


Kingsley Ben-Adir (no stranger to playing Black legends following his turn as Malcom X in “One Night in Miami”) plays Marley and though the screenplay by Terence Winter, Frank E. Flowers, and Zach Baylin rarely gives him a moment to shine, save for a somber campfire rendition of “Redemption Song,” he does the best with the hand he’s dealt. “One Love,” follows the reggae singer’s rise in the mid-70s and the recording of the hit record, “Exodus,” alongside the Wailers. Rather than display the heart and passion that unspooled on what’s widely considered the greatest album of the 20th century, “One Love,” treats it like one long jam session without any creative discussions aside from a brief tidbit about what the album cover should be. 


Instead, the movie montages its way through the tour, offering faint glimmers of the genius Marley was and how he amassed legions of fans and provided relief for his home country of Jamaica which, at the time, was on the brink of a civil war. It’s content with keeping the singer at an arm’s length, never stopping to showcase his humanity and the relationships shared with his wife, Rita (Lashana Lynch – criminally misused) and his children who we barley see in the two-hour production. 

Intermittent flashbacks to Marley’s childhood and the mythos of his absent White father are lost in the shuffle nor leave a resounding impact. And the climatic 1978 One Love Peace Concert in Kingston, the first time Marley had performed in his home country in nearly two years, isn’t even dramatized. The movie cuts to black with title cards and short clips of the event. This bizarre narrative choice (at least “Bohemian Rhapsody” gave us the Live Aid concert) encapsulates the entire short-sighted pathos of why these biopics fail: they simply don’t care. 


Grade: C- 


BOB MARLEY: ONE LOVE is now playing in theaters. 


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