New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Review: ‘Bob Marley: One Love’ is only pleasing to the ear

While the recently released biopic recreates some of the magic from Bob Marley’s music, it fails to thoughtfully explore the reggae superstar’s legacy.
Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, “Bob Marley: One Love” was released in the United States on Feb. 14, 2024. (Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Renowned Jamaican singer-songwriter Bob Marley was a multidimensional cultural icon. Dubbed the “King of Reggae,” he was a pioneer in the Reggae music scene who constantly pushed the boundaries of the genre. He was an activist who performed in various peace concerts in an attempt to ease Jamaican political tensions. He was a soccer fan, an advocate for legalizing cannabis, a Rastafarian and the father of 11 children. Though the new biopic film “Bob Marley: One Love” gives the audience a glimpse into Marley’s multifaceted life, it fails to delve deep into the legacy of the reggae icon.

Written and directed by American filmmaker Reinaldo Marcus Green, “Bob Marley: One Love” follows the musical legend, played by Kingsley Ben-Adir, through the most tumultuous era of his life. The film opens up in 1976 with the attempted assassination of Marley just before the infamous “Smile Jamaica Concert.” He is forced to flee from Jamaica with his wife Rita (Lashana Lynch) and his band, Bob Marley and the Wailers. He continues his career in England with the 1977 album “Exodus,” finding sudden success in the Western world. But, Bob and Rita begin to find themselves drifting from each other as the band gains global attention in Europe.

The film’s performances are its biggest strength. Ben-Adir gives a realistic portrayal of the reggae icon, bringing the character to life through carefully scrutinized details. His onstage performance resembles Marley’s habits and mannerisms in an astounding way. There is no doubt the actor put in a lot of effort to emanate Bob Marley’s traits and idiosyncrasies, even going as far as to learn how to sing and play guitar from Marley’s son Ziggy.

Lynch gives a powerful performance as Rita, providing counterweight to the vibrant expressions of Bob’s character. Their chemistry provides a much needed emotional core to the film, allowing the audience to empathize with these pop culture figures.

Another strong side of the film is, of course, the music. Hearing Marley’s music through the booming speakers of the movie theater is a joy on its own. The film’s sound design draws from archival concert footage, maintaining the musical performances’ liveness. The concert sequences of the film are visually and aurally immersive with the help of the roaring cheer of the crowd. As the film’s narrative begins to lose the audience’s attention, Marley’s music draws them back in.

Does “Bob Marley: One Love” teach you about the artist’s life? Yes. But does the film reveal anything new about Marley as a person? No — a resounding no, at that.

Beyond this, though, the movie fails to set up the personal significance of his songs. While Marley’s masterpiece “No Woman, No Cry” sings of the female and maternal strength which inspires him, the film reduces it to background music of a montage detailing the aftermath of an argument between Rita and Bob.

The film also glosses over the political landscape of Jamaica through brief exposition, diluting the cultural importance of Marley’s songs. The audience can only guess the dramatic weight of his actions, since the film does not provide the setting in which it occurs.

Most disappointing, though, is that when watching the film, it sometimes feels like you’re reading a Wikipedia article. Green recreates bland historical moments with little emotional depth. In “Bob Marley: One Love,” the singer is not a person, but an idea. It fails to explore the personal turmoil of Marley at a deeper level.

His childhood is quickly recapped with a series of flashbacks. There’s some mention of an identity crisis about his white father. There’s a scene of him beating up his manager Don Taylor due to financial reasons. But these scenes do not add up to expand Marley as a character. Instead, they soullessly follow his life in chronological order. Other pivotal incidents that influenced Bob Marley’s life, such as his affair with Cindy Breakspeare, are soft-pedaled just to narrate his life in a monotone manner.

Even though “Bob Marley: One Love” can recreate some of the magic the reggae icon had, it fails to offer its own perspective on the beloved figure. “Bob Marley: One Love” is a safe film. It does not have the courage to venture into painting a multicolored portrait of Marley. Instead, it resorts to the cliches and pitfalls that many biographical films find themselves in.

Take away the cultural significance of Marley, then Green is a bland mixture of cliches and stereotypes. The gravity of the legendary singer calls for a better film adaptation.

Contact Tony Jaeyeong Jeong at [email protected].

Leave a comment

Comments (0)

Comments that are deemed spam or hate speech by the moderators will be deleted.
All Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *