Bob Marley: One Love (PG-13) ★★

Review Date: February 16th, 2024

Bob Marley: One Love begins with an oddity: Ziggy Marley, the son of the title character and one of the film's producers, appears on screen to inform viewers that what they're about to see represents an "authentic" depiction of Bob Marley. What we come to learn over the next 105 minutes is that "authentic" means "sanitized." The Marley family's involvement all-but-guarantees that the film is more interested in burnishing Marley's reputation than presenting a warts-and-all narrative. Add to that the involvement of director Reinaldo Marcus Green and screenwriter Zach Baylin, who previously made King Richard, a hagiographic bio-pic of Richard Williams, and there's little hope of getting more than a conventional, overly respectful telling of Bob Marley's story.

One Love primarily covers the years between 1976 and 1978 with flashbacks to earlier parts of Marley's life. The resulting collage is frustratingly incomplete. Although we see a series of events that occur during the two-year period, they feel disconnected. After introducing some of the main characters, including Marley (Kingsley Ben-Adir); his devoted wife, Rita (Lashana Lynch); his manager Don Taylor (Anthony Welsh); and Chris Blackwell (James Norton), the head of Island Records, the film starts an uninspired trip through the title character's chronology. Following a depiction of the home invasion/attempted assassination two days before the free "Smile Jamaica" concert, One Love moves with Marley to England where he records the album Exodus. The movie ends with his decision to return to Jamaica to play in the "One Love Peace Concert."

It's telling that the most compelling portions of One Love occur at the end of the movie and during the credits, when archival footage of the real Marley is presented. It's never a good sign when any documentary elements of a bio-pic are more arresting than the dramatized portions. The recreation of Marley by actor Kingsley Ben-Adir (who previously played Malcolm X in One Night in Miami) is an exercise in adept mimicry. It's evident that Ben-Adir studied footage of the real Marley and assiduously worked to bring those elements to his portrayal. The result, however, is flat. The actor looks like Marley. He sounds like Marley. He acts like Marley. But there's no soul. This problem isn't unique to One Love or Ben-Adir; it's endemic in standard-order bio-pics.

For nearly two hours, the movie plods along, offering little beyond hackneyed dialogue that can't be gleaned from a quick read-through of Marley's Wikipedia entry. The movie is fond of skimming the surface but never digs down into the details. Consider, for example, the Rastafari movement, which was influential in Marley's life and music. One Love pays lip service to this and provides a high-level explanation of what it is but there's no depth - it feels more like something "colorful" added to differentiate Marley from other artists of his day.

It's hard to argue that One Love is any better or worse than other recent big-screen dramatizations of musicians' lives but this movie contains less music than most, choosing (perhaps unwisely) to focus on aspects of Marley's life not directly related to his performances. The film's lack of energy improves markedly during the few on-stage re-creations; these are instances when Ben-Adir's interpretation works best. It's an argument that One Love might have benefitted from a similar approach to the one employed by the likes of Baz Luhrmann's Elvis or I Wanna Dance with Somebody. But that's not the road selected by Reinaldo Marcus Green and it dooms viewers to watching something with too little in the way of character development, insight, or engaging drama. Paramount Pictures has been marketing One Love since the middle of 2023 - this flaccid result is a disappointment.

© 2024 James Berardinelli