Opening in theaters on February 14th is the new biopic from director Reinaldo Marcus Green (‘King Richard’) entitled ‘Bob Marley: One Love,’ which chronicles the life of the late reggae singer and stars Kingsley Ben-Adir (‘Barbie’) in the title role.
Bob Marley’s life and legacy comes into vivid scope in director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s captivating ‘Bob Marley: One Love.’ Actor Kingsley Ben-Adir gives a transcending performance in the title role, and Lashana Lynch is strong and elegant as Marley’s wife, Rita. While the movie does fall into some common biopic traps, and becomes predictable at times, Marley’s compelling story, his vibrant music, and the lead performances elevate the overall film.
Script and Direction
Written by Terence Winter, Frank E. Flowers, Zach Baylin and director Reinaldo Marcus Green, the movie begins with a brief flashback to Bob Marley’s (Kingsley Ben-Adir) childhood and quickly flash’s forward to the mid-1970s. Jamaica is in political turmoil. Marley is now a superstar and scheduled to perform a concert to bring the country together but has been urged not to attend. After an assassination attempt on Marley that leaves his wife Rita (Lashana Lynch) injured, Bob leaves Jamaica for London where he begins recording the ‘Exodus’ album.
The distance soon puts a strain on his marriage, while Marley navigates fame and betrayal within his own ranks. He eventually decides to tour Africa, but after he is diagnosed with cancer, and the political climate of Jamaica changes, he instead returns home from his self-imposed exile to unite his country one more time with a live-concert and his iconic music. The film also continues to flashback throughout revealing Marley’s tough childhood, putting together The Wailers, recording his first album, and meeting and falling in love with Rita.
The script wisely focuses on Marley’s final years, and the structure, starting with the subject as a star and flashing back to show how he got there, is very refreshing. It allows the movie to start in first gear rather than revving up to the main story in chronological order. The flashbacks also work well within the context of the movie. But that doesn’t mean the film doesn’t fall into some common musical biopic traps, but more on that in a minute.
Director Reinaldo Marcus Green, coming off the Oscar-nominated ‘King Richard,’ sets a good pace and tone for the film, which is helped by the strong structure of the screenplay. Green wisely fills the movie with Marley’s music, fitting in all the hits, and even demonstrating how some of the songs were written. The concert scenes are excellently shot and bring Marley’s music vibrantly alive through Ben-Adir’s performance. While those scenes are highlights, equally compelling are the emotional scenes between Bob and Rita, which Green orchestrates well.
Kingsley Ben-Adir as Bob Marley
In the pantheon of actors portraying famous musicians, I’d put Val Kilmer’s performance as Jim Morrison in ‘The Doors’ at the top and Raim Malek’s disgraceful Oscar-winning performance as Freddy Mercury in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ at the bottom. On that spectrum, Kingsley Ben-Adir’s Bob Marley is on the high-end, close to Kilmer and right beside Joaquin Phoenix’s Johnny Cash in ‘Walk the Line.’
Ben-Adir completely embodies Marley, becoming almost unrecognizable both in looks and voice. The actor successfully transforms himself into Marley in a very believable way. My big beef with Malek is he was lip-syncing and did not actually sing his own songs. My understanding is Ben-Adir sang live on set, but the final product is augmented with Marley’s actual voice. Be that the case, you can tell that Ben-Adir is giving it his all in the music scenes, moving and jumping with the same energy as the legendary singer himself.
But the actor also excels at capturing his majesty, his intensity, and his spirituality, especially in the quitter scenes. Ben-Adir brings a lot of emotion to his off-stage scenes, particularly those with Lynch. The chemistry between the two actors is apparent and brings an intensity to Bob and Rita’s relationship. While the actor does have the luxury of bringing with him all the love and respect that we as audience already have for Marley, Ben-Adir doesn’t rest on that and uses it to create a portrait of the real man behind the legend.
Lashana Lynch as Rita Marley
Lashana Lynch is wonderful as Bob’s better half, Rita Marley and gives one of the best performances of her career. The actress is strong and graceful as Rita, who loves her husband but also knows he is meant for a greater purpose. Lynch lights up the screen every scene she is in and is fantastic opposite Ben-Adir. Since Rita was also a member of the Wailers, Lynch is required to sing in the film and is completely believable in the role.
Biopic Traps and Other Criticisms
As mentioned earlier, the film does fall into some common biopic traps and cliches. After the brief opening flashback, the movie then has about a minute and a half of title cards explaining how Marley became a star and what is happening in Jamaica when the movie begins. Since most audiences already know the basic story of Bob Marley, explaining how he became a star did not seem necessary, especially since it is eventually shown in flashbacks, and the political issues get explained through the course of the movie as well.
The film also has the traditional montage scene, which seems like a trope that has been played out. In this case, it was used for a concert tour and the recording of ‘Exodus,’ and was just included to show the passing of time while giving exposition needed for the rest of the third act. There seems like a smarter way to do that, but that said, those scenes do work but only because of Marley’s music.
My final criticism, while it was not as bad as director Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Elvis,’ I did feel like Marley’s story was somewhat sanitized. While they examined his music, political influence, and illness well, they glanced over his infidelities, and the impact that had on Rita and his marriage. There are a few brief references, including that he fathered other children, but it is barely explored.
Oscar 2025 Chances?
It’s obviously too early to make predictions on next year’s Oscars, but with two performances as good as Ben-Adir and Lynch’s, in a movie about someone as beloved as Bob Marley, you must wonder why the studio dumped this movie in February. It would make more sense if they took it to festivals this fall and opened it closer to next December for Oscar nominations.
As good as Ben-Adir and Lynch are, respectively, I fear this movie will be forgotten by the fall. While the film itself and the direction are probably not strong enough for nominations, the screenplay could have had a chance, and certainly Ben-Adir and Lynch would have been in the running, but unfortunately, even though it’s a good movie, it probably won’t be on people’s minds by the end of the year.
It might not be the best musician biopic of all time, ‘Bob Marley: One Love’ is a very entertaining and well-made movie that is worthy of the icon it is based on. While not perfect, the screenplay structure is clever, and the concert scenes and Marley’s music makes up for the rest. But its Kingsley Ben-Adir and Lashana Lynch’s transcending performances that really makes the movie rock!
‘Bob Marley: One Love’ receives 8 out of 10 stars.
What is the Plot of ‘Bob Marley: One Love’?
Jamaican singer-songwriter Bob Marley (Kingsley Ben-Adir) overcomes adversity to become the most famous reggae musician in the world.
Who is in the Cast of ‘Bob Marley: One Love’?
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