There is a little good (Marley’s music) and a lot of disappointments in this one-shot biopic, in theaters February 14, which never really manages to take off or touch on the complexity of the reggae star to the global humanist message.
Reading time: 5 min
Not everyone knows his life, but everyone knows Bob Marley’s music. Over the years and generations, the popularity of the reggae icon’s songs continues 43 years after his death, which occurred in May 1981 at the age of 36.
After the remarkable documentary Marley by Kevin Macdonald released in 2012, which benefited from the precious family archives of the Marley clan, the Jamaican singer and musician is now entitled to his biopic, an exercise in vogue in Hollywood, which produces them in spades. The film Bob Marley: One Love hits theaters Wednesday, February 14.
For this project that has been in the works for decades, it is Reinaldo Marcus Green, director of The Williams Method about tennis players Venus and Serena Williams, whom the artist’s family ultimately chose to make the film. Ziggy Marley, the eldest son, takes on the role of producer and the family, who skillfully build on the legacy, once again watches over the grain. But is the dream machine of Babylon the most appropriate to tell the life of the rebel poet who sang “Don’t gain the world by losing your soul / Wisdom is more important than silver and gold“?
This biopic is in any case clearly aimed at the general public, even family. Whether one knows nothing about the Marley legend or is familiar with his trajectory, whether one considers him a reggae icon or venerates him as a prophet and messenger of peace, the perception will not be necessarily not the same.
The film’s biggest asset: Marley’s songs
Let’s start with what everyone will definitely agree on: the music. We hear in this biopic many hits by Marley and his Wailers, these indestructible anthems and other hits such as Get Up, Stand Up, Exodus And one Love, remained insolently fresh. It is definitely his voice during the concert scenes, and some studio composition sequences, where we feel the exhilaration of creation, are quite successful.
Another asset of the film: the fact of having filmed largely in Jamaica, with a majority of Jamaican actors and musicians, which gives a veneer of authenticity. Finally, the choice to frame the biopic at the peak of his career (1976-1978, period Rastaman Vibration And Exodus) and around a key moment – that of the triumphant historic concert One Love Peace that Marley gave to Kingston in April 1978 with a strong political stake (he managed to bring together Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, the two rivals who bitterly competed for power in Jamaica then in flames and blood) – is particularly well received. It shows how the force of conviction, the message of unity and the aura of the musician went well beyond music.
Lack of incarnation and deplorable smoothing
For the rest, this biopic is disappointing. It’s a fact, British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir bears little resemblance to Marley. She is a beauty like Lenny Kravitz, with a devastating smile and a slimmer, less dense silhouette than that of her model. But the resemblance is incidental, it matters much less than the interpretation. For the charismatic and complex Robert Nesta Marley, a magnetic presence was needed that spoke without words, capable of playing exaltation as well as introspection, the revolutionary as well as the romantic. In short, an actor able to embody combative power while allowing an almost sacrificial vulnerability to surface. We have no doubt that Kingsley Ben-Adir carefully studied the singer’s gestures and speech, but it doesn’t take hold, it remains on the surface, we don’t believe it. And all the more so since the British actress Lashana Lynch, who plays the role of Rita Marley, is completely convincing, both intense and all in restraint, compassion and suppressed anger.
Then, the screenplay and the direction are hopelessly shot-to-shot, far too smooth to be captivating. There is, however, drama and action in Marley’s life, with an assassination attempt from which he miraculously escaped with his wife at the end of 1976, then with the discovery of cancer which will take his life. But nothing works. The character’s rough edges are erased, attempts to explore the fragilities and motivations of the man behind the idol only sketched. As for the gray areas – notoriously fickle companion, father not very present for his numerous offspring – they are wiped off the map (a stormy domestic scene gives an overview, but for example we never hear about his affair with Cindy Breakspeare, who gave him a son, Damian Marley, born in 1978). And we barely see a few joints of ganja passing by, although he smoked profusely.
“Bob Marley for Dummies”
No doubt to give rhythm and dynamism to the scenario, the story is peppered with visions and disordered flashbacks, which refer in particular to this white father whom he did not know and did not want him, and to his discovery of the Rastafarianism (religion born in Jamaica in the 1930s), which permeates its entire repertoire. But these sequences lack clarity and only add confusion to this breathless film which we could without malice describe as “Bob Marley for dummies”.
And why not ? Except that when so many other current biopics and documentaries on personalities strive to make quite banal lives captivating, this one achieves the feat of doing quite the opposite: flattening and smoothing that of a complex artist, inspired and inspiring, with a remarkable journey. That of a Jamaican musician who started from nothing with a personal ambition, reached the top despite the pitfalls with a unitary humanist design of global scope. “My music is here forever“, said Marley. The same cannot be said of this dispensable biopic.
Gender : Biopic, Drama, Musical
Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Actors: Kinglsey Ben-Adir, Lashana Lynch, James Norton
Country : UNITED STATES
Duration : 1h47
Exit : February 14, 2024
Distributer : Paramount Pictures France
Synopsis: Bob Marley: One Love celebrates the reggae icon’s life and music, his resilience in the face of adversity, the path that led to his groundbreaking music, which inspired generations through his message of love and unity.