Directed by: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Written by: Terence Walker, Frank E. Flowers, Zach Baylin, Reinaldo Marcus Green
Starring: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Lashana Lynch, James Norton, Michael Gandolfini, Nadine Marshall, Micheal Ward
Released: February 15, 2024
Grade: B-

Bob Marley: One Love

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he is credited by Time Magazine as creating the greatest album of the 20th Century, and he was awarded a Peace Medal by the United Nations.  It was always a matter of when, and not if, a Hollywood movie would be made about the iconic Jamaican singer Bob Marley.  The actor tasked with the enviable role is 37-year-old Kingsley Ben-Adir who recently embodied another renowned figure, Malcolm X, in Regina King’s One Night in Miami.

Aside from a few quick flashbacks, the film avoids Marley’s upbringing and is focused on his actions and achievements in the second half of the 1970s.  There was much political unrest in Jamaica and while Marley hoped to stay and unite the country through his music, he ultimately travelled to London and created the album he will best be remembered for, Exodus.

Music biopics are a tricky-to-execute genre, and director Reinaldo Marcus Green (Monsters and Men, King Richard) has a battle on his hands with this material.  It’s delving into Jamaican culture and politics, it’s showing Marley’s creative process, it’s exploring the relationship with his wife (Lynch), and it’s highlighting his efforts to break down barriers and bring music to poor communities in Africa.  The film’s bottom line is something we already know – Marley was a gifted artist who should continue to be celebrated and remembered.

Bob Marley: One Love is not a bad film… but it’s not an eye-opening one either.  Without giving too much away, there’s a powerful photo of the real-life Marley holding hands with two men (at the start of the closing credits) and it made me realise how much more interesting the film could have been if focused on his time in troubled Jamaica instead of ho-hum England.  In going with formulaic subplots and artificial dialogue (“his guitar is his machine gun”), the four-person screenwriting team have played it too safe.

There are positives to be found.  I liked watching Marley as he searched for a “new sound” in crafting the Exodus album, and there’s a stand-out scene where he argues with a worried music studio executive over the new album’s cover art.  Ben-Adir does an admirable job in capturing the vibe of the chain-smoking Marley and imparting the character’s feel-good mellowness onto audiences.  We don’t see enough of James Norton (Nowhere Special) but he’s also noteworthy as an astute record producer.

I don’t know if Bob Marley: One Love will instil his music into a new generation (which Bohemian Rhapsody did despite its flaws) but, in recognition of one of music’s greats, I hope there are enough