Bob Marley: One Love Review

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Kingsley Ben-Adir has only starred in a handful of movies thus far, but he’s already establishing himself as one of our finest actors. His best work to date was as Malcolm X in Regina King’s One Night in Miami…. Rather than try to cover Malcolm X’s entire life like in Spike Lee’s biopic, King’s film restricted itself to a chapter. Despite the brief amount of time and having to share the screen with three other legends, One Night in Miami… got to the center of who Malcolm X was. Bob Marley: One Love, which also stars Ben-Adir, could’ve learned from the latter film.

Ben-Adir continues to demonstrate his range as Bob Marley, who remains the first name that comes to mind when people think of reggae. While One Love doesn’t limit itself to one night of Marley’s life, it only focuses on his final years from the Smile Jamaica concert onward. To a degree, it’s refreshing that director Reinaldo Marcus Green doesn’t try to cram 36 years into a single feature. Major moments from Marley’s life are inevitably excluded, however. This would be all right if we were still given a compelling portrait of who Marley was. Yet, people with little knowledge of Marley won’t learn much more than what they could’ve read on Wikipedia. Marley’s fans may appreciate the songs, although they’ll be left wanting more.

The film opens with Marley’s attempted assassination, which winds up being the most interesting portion. From there, the film sleepwalks from the creation of the album Exodus, to his cancer diagnosis, to the titular concert. It’s made clear that Marley wanted to use his music to spread peace as political tensions in Jamaica grew. We aren’t given much insight into Marley’s creative process or his politics, however. One Love falls into the same trap as various other music biopics. The individual at the forefront is unique, but their story is presented in a formulaic fashion that Dewey Cox called out almost 20 years ago.

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The performances provide One Love’s saving grace. Despite requiring Marley’s vocals for much of the singing portions, Ben-Adir captures his laidback charisma. It’s evident how much research Ben-Adir put into the role with his portrayal never feeling like an impression. The underrated Lashana Lynch is equally strong as Rita Marley, although she isn’t developed beyond being a matriarch. The film touches upon the couple’s affairs, but it tiptoes around how many children Bob Marley had outside of his marriage. One Love is notably produced by Rita and two of their children, Ziggy and Cedella. While you can sense the love behind the scenes, it explains why One Love feels so safe.

Given how close Rita was to the project, One Love might’ve been more intriguing if it were told from her perspective. This approach worked well in Priscilla, although that biopic didn’t make nearly as much as Elvis. While Elvis also followed a conventional formula, at least it delivered on the musical set pieces. Green is a talented director, but he doesn’t have an especially strong visual eye for this material. As well acted as One Love is, you’re better off watching the 2012 documentary Marley. It’s a more thorough portrait of who Marley was, as well as why his music has lasted.

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About Nick Spake

Nick Spake has been working as an entertainment writer for the past ten years, but he's been a lover of film ever since seeing the opening sequence of The Lion King. Movies are more than just escapism to Nick, they're a crucial part of our society that shape who we are. He now serves as the Features Editor at Flickreel and author of its regular column, 'Nick Flicks'.

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