Meeting Bob Marley, the man

Published 12:10 pm Tuesday, March 26, 2024

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This week at the Tryon Theatre is “Bob Marley: One Love,” a lovingly crafted and tremendously acted biopic. The director at the helm of this film is well-practiced in crafting biographical cinema, having directed two other biopics, the most recent being “King Richard,” the story of Richie Williams (the Williams sisters’ father), a film we carried last year. At the center of the film, playing the titular character is Kingsley Ben-Adir, a very talented British actor, whose performance as Marley is an arguable career best.

In consideration of any biopic, it is important to consider the scope of the story being told. No matter the lifespan of any individual, the actual sum of their experience far outstrips the capacity for any film to tell in its entirety. With this in mind, biopics naturally omit or condense certain periods in the life of the central character, no matter the respective biopic’s commitment to historical accuracy. Bob Marley, as such a figure for adaptation, lived a relatively short life, passing at 36 in 1981 from metastatic cancer stemming from an undiagnosed melanoma. However, despite Marley’s shorter and therefore more manageably adapted lifespan, this film still does not seek to be exhaustive in its depiction of Marley, instead focusing its narrative on a key set of years, 1976-1978. During this time, Marley was performing professionally in his home country of Jamaica, having found a smaller scale of artistic success, but not without the cost of socio-political strife. Jamaica, in this period, was beset with intense political turmoil, and the warring factions interpreted Marley’s calls for peace as a direct challenge to their respective goals, casting a new and dangerous spotlight on Marley. The film follows Marley as the escalating violence of Jamaica’s unrest takes him, his family, and his music across international borders into new lives and a new reach for his ever-more popular music. 

Marley’s music is of course, what endeared fans to him: a love for the reggae sound to which he exposed them. And while this film does feature many of Marley’s most beloved tracks, in all their artistry and appeal, it does not offer any new insights into Marley the musician, rather focusing on Marley, the man. Marley’s interactions and relationships with his family take center stage in this film, pulling the viewer into the more intimate and contained spaces that inform the spectacle of performance and activism seen by the public. Kingsley Ben-Adir’s performance as Marley shines the brightest in these quieter and more personal scenes, breathing an authenticity and groundedness into this larger-than-life figure. 

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“Bob Marley: One Love” will certainly hit all the notes a viewer comes to expect with a well-crafted biopic, providing humanity and personality to a subject shrouded in celebrity. The excellent casting of the film can provide, if only a couple of hours, the sense of being present with a figure long since passed, a moment for the audience to step back in history and experience the individual behind the art. For any lovers of Marley’s music, this film will surely provide a rewarding and engaging experience. We hope to share the vibes with you soon!