Together with his wife Rita Marley (Lashana Lynch) and his band, the Wailers, Bob Marley (Kingsley Ben-Adir) begins production on what will be their most seminal work - the album Exodus, written in the wake of an assassination attempt on Marley in his native Jamaica following violent political upheaval...
Musical biopics are always at the mercy of the subject matter, be they living or dead. It all essentially rests on how real and how honest they - or their estate - are willing to be. In cases like 'Rocketman', Elton John was more than capable of facing up to his own problems, his own demons, and turning it into a refreshingly honest biopic while still retaining a real sense of showmanship and entertainment. Jamie Foxx's performance as Ray Charles captured all of the intricacies and contradictions, while Austin Butler's outsized, over-the-top performance as Elvis Presley worked in contex with Baz Luhrmann's equally outré sensibilities. In the case of Bob Marley and the clunkily titled 'Bob Marley: One Love', there's a sense that there could very well have been a fascinating biopic in the offing. Instead, the whole thing is smothered in painfully obvious cliches and dull performances.
It's not as if there's a lack of potential stories and through lines that could be explored in Bob Marley's life and times. Yet, the script has four credited writers - including Terence Winter of 'The Wolf of Wall Street' and 'The Sopranos', and Frank E. Flowers who co-wrote the excellent and underwatched 'Metro Manila' - and lacks any kind of personality to it. There's probably a much better version of Marley's life that could be made into a movie, but the chances are is that it would be far less accessible and much more experimental than what's on offer here.
Kinglsey Ben-Adir feels miscast as Bob Marley. As much as there's a latitude in how a real-life personality is interpreted and characterised on screen, Kingsley Ben-Adir looks closer to a vague impersonation. The voice is there, almost, and if you squint hard enough at the screen, it just about lands. Yet, it's a performance that's unable to connect with as the entire movie shapes him into a messianic figure. It almost feels like it's been generated by AI than by a real human. By contrast, Lashana Lynch gives a textured, lived-in portrayal of the long-suffering Rita Marley that is one of the shining lights of the movie. Where Bob is held up as an impossibly virtuous figure, Rita Marley seems as though she's the only one living in the real world and knows who he is. Indeed, hers would have probably been a better perspective to examine Bob Marley from.
'Bob Marley: One Love' is directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, who directed the equally clichéd 'King Richard', with Will Smith picking up an Oscar for that performance. Like 'King Richard', there's all sorts of uplifting moments, moments of struggle and doubt, moments of inspiration, but it's a box-ticking exercise with the same level of efficiency and care. Even the musical moments in 'Bob Marley: One Love' feels as though they've been dropped in by way of algorithmic selection. The songs never feel as though they're played with any life or joy, and instead feeds into the inertness of the whole thing. Even when some impressionistic moments are thrown in, like Marley hallucinating and seeing the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie I and his father, it feels as though it's a remnant of a far more intriguing version of the story that hasn't been told.