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  • Writer's pictureDenise Breen

Bob Marley: One Love -

Updated: Mar 2

3 out of 5

This film kinda crept up on me. I had seen the trailer but its release was still a surprise. I'm still not sure why they had to put his name in the film title. Surely everyone knows who Bob Marley is? Maybe it's like in Hollywood films where they cut to an image of London and the sub-title comes up "London, England" - as if we didn't know the skyline.

By way of further preamble, I'm an average Bob Marley fan. I mean I own the greatest hits but that's it - so not a super fan. Do you need to be to see this film, no. There is quite a lot of political history too which I loved.

Jamaica in the mid-1970s is a country rocked by ongoing violence and political instability, and it’s here that a young reggae singer named Bob Marley (Kingsley Ben-Adir) is trying to make a difference. His deep interest in Rastafari beliefs and his country’s wellbeing push him to try to bring the divided nation together with one big free concert.

The concert isn’t universally popular, and for his trouble, Bob finds himself confronted with an armed home intruder who shoots him, his wife Rita (Lashana Lynch), and some of his friends and fellow musicians. While everyone survives the attack, Bob realizes that his ideals might have a real cost to him and his family. Now working on a long European tour, Bob must contemplate the future he wants for himself and the people he loves.

Are you familiar with Jamaican accents and the patois spoken there? That’s not an idle question. If the answer isn’t “yes, intimately”, you might have some difficulty understanding large parts of the movie. I’m usually okay with accents, but they come pretty thick in this film, a problem that worsens when people talk over one another or there’s music in the background. I think I was lucky if I only missed a third of the spoken dialogue. I accept that this my failing and not a criticism of the actors. Once you get past the linguistic issue, you find a remarkably familiar music biopic formula. It’s not objectionable, but it is starting to get a little worn from overuse, and I’m about ready for some changes to the template. While focused on a fairly narrow slice of Bob Marley’s life, the film includes flashbacks to his earlier years. Not only do these fail to provide any new insights to his character; they suck narrative momentum out of the (already slow) main plot like some kind of celluloid vampire.

That being said, this is a pretty tame film about the music industry. Normally, entertainment biopics are soaked in sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll, Rocketman, for example. Amazingly, there’s no on-screen sex in this film, but given Bob Marley’s public embrace of marijuana, it’s no surprise that basically every adult on screen is smoking marijuana at almost any given time.

Unless you’re a lifelong Marley fan (Bob, not Jacob, sorry Mr. Dickens), I don’t know that this film is going to be the best hook for you. At least the protagonist is an endearing figure and Ben-Adir is giving a charismatic performance. It’s hard not to get swept up in the magic of Bob Marley at times. But then again, that’s a pretty low bar for a movie like this to clear.

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