A reverential and cosmetised Bob Marley biopic that bobs along in predictability - Hindustan Times

Bob Marley One Love review: This reverential and cosmetised biopic of the reggae icon bobs along in predictability

Feb 18, 2024 10:43 AM IST

The story of the Jamaican music legend, starring Kingsley Ben-Adir and Lashana Lynch, gets a one-note treatment in this film that mostly plays safe.

The only time Bob Marley: One Love exhibits any departure from the vapid biopic pattern during its 130-minute runtime is when Marley (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and his wife Rita (Lashana Lynch) splatter out in a Paris street at night after the success of his album Exodus. They quarrel, Bob accusing her of adultery and Rita calling him out for having forgotten “the message” with his “winin’ and dinin’” ways.

Lashana Lynch and Kingsley Ben-Adir in One Love: Bob Marley
Lashana Lynch and Kingsley Ben-Adir in One Love: Bob Marley

That’s it, though. Soon after, moments after their Paris concert, Marley roughs up his manager Don Taylor (Anthony Welsh) backstage. This is the only other moment this first superstar of the third world errs in this one-note biopic of his. But when Bob accuses Don of lying to him and pocketing commission from the promoter of an ambitious tour the former’s been dreaming about, the vulnerability loses all depth or any capability to stir the viewer.

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Produced by Brad Pitt and approved of by the Marley family, the Reinaldo Marcus Green directorial has arrived reggaeing in our midst with such self-absorption and vanity that it becomes essential to take it down where it falters most: in its certain reverence of its protagonist. Like with most average biopics, the script seems to have cherry-picked Marley’s well-known tics and traits, casting him into the spotlight as a near-mythical clairvoyant. So it helps when one considers the fact that Bob Marley’s story is supposed to be a heavily Post-colonialist take that asserts the third world upon a world still reeling from colonialism, international conflicts and “downpression”.

Ben-Adir and Lynch are both British actors of Caribbean descent, but their reproduction of the Jamaican couple often appears laboured, with their Patois occasionally leaking the enunciation of the English-speaking West. Ben-Adir brings his body to his portrayal of the sinewy Marley, but unfortunately appears a bit more cosmetic and polished than the Natural Mystic singer’s Rastafarian beliefs would seem to allow.

You really cannot fault the actors for that, though, seeing as transforming into someone from an entirely different world and era is always fraught with the risk that you might end up rendering it comical. Lynch simmers with intensity in several scenes and it is then that you wonder how would it have been had this character told this story, especially in the light of the revelations that came out with her 2004 tell-all book, No Woman No Cry.

But by the end, you realise One Love is supposed to be at best educational and safe. The heavily episodic structure of the script makes it resort frequently to expository info dumps that would look out of place even in a documentary feature. In the film’s world, Marley’s connection with God and other alternative non-White figures of his consciousness, which formed the basis of his message for peace and brand of music that conquered the world, is wound mostly around a recurring scene where, as a little boy, he runs into the vacant clearing inside a field on fire, with a uniformed horseman trotting behind. If this is to be seen as the musician’s lifelong search for his missing father (like the uniform, and seemingly the Ethiopian emperor Haille Selassie as revealed later, suggest), it’s unimaginatively done and plain trite.

One Love is perfectly skippable, but hardcore Marley fans wouldn’t mind catching a show.

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