Kingsley Ben-Adir in Bob Marley: One Love (2024)

‘Bob Marley: One Love’ movie review: Kingsley Ben-Adir is the reggae legend in lifeless biopic

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Bob Marley struggles to find his mojo following an assassination attempt in Bob Marley: One Love, which opens in Prague and cinemas worldwide this weekend. Despite an invigorating soundtrack filled wall-to-wall with Marley and The Wailers’ greatest hits, the narrative in this family-approved biopic plays out completely flat, and feels tonally at odds with the vibrant spirit of the reggae legend.

Bob Marley: One Love stars Kingsley Ben-Adir in the title role, which picks up with the legend ahead of his Smile Jamaica concert in 1976, intended to unite his country during a time of political turmoil. But just days before the concert, two shooters riddle Marley’s residence with bullets, leaving the singer merely wounded but wife Rita (Lashana Lynch) and manager Don Taylor (Anthony Welsh) nearly dead.

In a motif that will be repeated throughout the film, Ben-Adir’s Marley knowingly gazes into the eyes of the shooter before he pulls the trigger, forgiving this lost soul before his heinous act just as Jesus Christ would forgive Judas. A formal (and invented) absolution will come later, but it is clear from the outset that One Love‘s portrayal of Bob Marley will be one of nothing less than saintly reverence.

Who were the would-be killers? In his autobiography Marley And Me: The Real Bob Marley Story, Taylor would accuse the American CIA of putting a hit on Marley due to the musician’s perceived support of Jamaican PM Michael Manley. But Bob Marley: One Love doesn’t seem to care why its three leads were almost killed; it’s simply another event in the singer’s life, listlessly transcribed to the screen before moving on to the next one.

While even attempted murder can’t shake his faith in humanity, Marley does decide it’s wise to leave Jamaica for London. Much of Bob Marley: One Love‘s narrative will trace the genesis of The Wailers’ chart-topping album Exodus, named the best album of the 20th century by time, and subsequent European tour, before returning home for the titular One Love Peace Concert — which, surprisingly, doesn’t make it into the final film.

While Bob Marley: One Love paints a hagiographic ode to its central protagonist, it drains him of his soul, the vital essence that we can feel through his music. Ben-Adir’s Marley is a tortured artist who rarely cracks a smile, suffers under the weight of the world, and fights through physical pain to perform in concert.

Footage of the real Marley ahead of the closing credits reminds us of the free spirit who served as a mere vessel for his music and his message, who performed with wild abandon while losing himself in the rhythm of reggae. Ben-Adir’s violent on-stage theatrics, meanwhile, feel like a desperate plea trying to fight through the uplifting beat, more Jim Morrison than Bob Marley.

Through flashbacks, we get glimpses of the movie that could have been: Quan-Dajai Henriques plays the teenage Bob Marley as an actual character, one who is insecure and afraid, lacking in religious spirit and haunted by the memories of an absent father. His struggle is the one we can relate to. Scenes between Henriques and Nia Ashi, playing the young Rita, are filled with the soul that the rest of the film lacks, and and The Wailers’ first impromptu recording session is so much more impassioned than the rest of Bob Marley: One Love that it feels like it came from another movie.

But for everything lacking in Bob Marley: One Love‘s lifeless screenplay, credited to Terence Winter, Frank E. Flowers, Zach Baylin and director Reinaldo Marcus Green (King Richard), there’s one thing that can’t be taken away from the movie: an incredible soundtrack of hits from Bob Marley and The Wailers that includes almost the entirety of Exodus.

In fact, Bob Marley: One Love is at its finest during the closing credits, when we finally hear the titular One Love, followed by Is This Love and Rastman Chant, all in their entireties. Without any narrative distraction, Marley’s message finally resonates through the cinema hall, and lifts our spirits after what had been a largely draining biopic.

Bob Marley: One Love

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

One Response

  1. As a biopic One Love was DOA, but indeed it was an incredible soundtrack, and so well remastered. I’m sure those were the original Marley vocals, but I’ve never heard them so crisp and clean.

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