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Bob Marley: One Love (2024)

A somewhat truncated biopic, Bob Marley: One Love shines the most when it focuses on the Jamaican superstar’s music.
Our Rating

Genre(s): Drama, Music

Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green

Actors: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Lashana Lynch, James Norton

Year: 2024

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Country: USA

Made with full support of Bob Marley’s family, One Love shimmers with love and adoration toward the reggae icon who left the world too soon. But if you don’t know much about the superstar who left an indelible stamp on music (Marley passed away in 1981 at age 36), One Love offers what feels like only the middle chapters to a more complete portrayal of the legendary singer.

With a very brief text intro, the film drops us into 1976 when Jamaica is in political turbulence; the British colonial system has departed the country, leaving political factions and violent gangs fighting in the streets. Bob Marley (Kingsley Ben-Adir), already a star in his home country, is planning a free peace-and-love unification concert, despite dire warnings from folks all around him. The threats turn out to be real. While practicing with his band in his home compound, a couple of gunmen sneak into the house, showering the rooms with gunfire. Bob is grazed, but his manager and wife Rita (Lashana Lynch) are severely wounded. Defiant Bob plays the concert anyway, but is clearly shaken.

Disheartened by the violence in Jamaica, Marley makes the very difficult decision to exile his band to London for their next album, with Rita taking the kids to Delaware to the refuge of his mother’s home. The result of their time in London is the now-classic album Exodus—a massive international breakthrough (that TIME magazine eventually called the best album of the 20th century). After a hugely successful stadium tour across Europe, Bob and friends finally return home to Jamaica in 1978 for a newly triumphant peace concert called One Love. And after a couple postscript cards, the credits roll.

Now, I don’t require a tragic ending for tragedy’s sake. In the course of the film, Bob is diagnosed with the cancer that would eventually end his life in 1981. But by ending 3 years before that (with the seemingly natural bookend of a homecoming concert), it ends up cutting short of some of his biggest hits and further album releases. For instance, I fail to believe I was the only one waiting to hear “Could You Be Loved,” a fantastic song used effectively in the trailer… that doesn’t appear in the movie at all. One Love ends up feeling like the middle two hours of a better, more complex, more complete six-hour story.

I will say that none of this is the fault of the actors. Kingsley Ben-Adir, though he doesn’t particularly look much like Marley except for dreads and a megawatt smile, is appealing as a man whose shining charm is haunted by not only his exile but his rough, poor upbringing that is hinted at in flashbacks. Lashana Lynch (who’s fabulous in everything I’ve seen her in) is great, if a bit underused as Bob’s wife Rita. Rita was in Bob’s life since they were teenagers, and she is credited with introducing him to the Rastafari religion (the significance and meaning is sort of mushily explained). Lynch gets to burn like fire in a scene where she confronts Bob and his selfishness, pointing out that she long ago put her own hopes and dreams aside to support him and his many children (including those by many other women). There’s a big pile of dirty laundry right there that the family obviously chose to gloss over, but it just proves that Rita is an intriguing, whip-smart character that deserved more development.

The best parts of the film, though, unsurprisingly involve the music. Whether Bob is noodling with his band The Wailers in his living room, or getting inspired when one of his pals spins the soundtrack to the historical epic movie Exodus, or jamming in the studio with his band as they try to form songs, it’s invigorating. Even when Bob and his pals visit a punk club in London (only to get swept up and arrested due to racial profiling), you can feel his love for music—his appreciation and craving for songs, like his, that have a message for the masses. One Love is worth seeing for a glimpse of that creative magic.

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