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'Bob Marley: One Love' Review

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February 13, 2024
Hunter Friesen
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So formulaic that it might as well be taught in math class, Bob Marley: One Love is just another entry in a long line of music biopics that merely exist to pump up the brand image of its icon. It’s what the haters of Maestro thought they were watching, all of them unable to perceive the amount of soul poured into that story by an artist working at the height of his powers. One Love takes away the brush and replaces it with the creaky gears of a machine whose only purpose is to deliver the most palatable retelling possible, as if coloring outside the lines would combust the film stock it was printed on.

The conventional postscript text isn’t enough from a screenplay credited to four writers (Terence Winter, Frank E. Flower, Zach Baylin, and director Reinaldo Marcus Green), as a copious amount of prescript set the stage for the political landscape of 1970s Jamaica. The Caribbean island nation is in a state of turmoil, with the threat of violence forcing everyone to look over their shoulder. Bob Marley (Kingsley Ben-Adir) positions himself at the center of this conflict by staging a peace concert. Before he can sing a note, an assassination attempt results in him and his wife Rita (Lashana Lynch) being hit by a bullet. Despite his carefree attitude and unwillingness to accept defeat, Marley realizes this stroke of death is a sign that cannot be ignored. He jets off to England to record his next album, “Exodus,” which will become one of the most successful ever.

Green has a “look but don't touch” attitude towards the events of this three-year framework. Almost everything of note is visited but never explored interestingly. No amount of ambiguity or complexity is created, with Marley being an almost mystical Christ-like figure floating through a world of pain. He says that “you can’t separate the message from the music,” but his message never seems to be more than just a simple blanket statement for peace.

Characters only speak in plotlines, all of them entirely forgettable save for the two leads. In a commendable move, almost all of the dialogue is delivered through authentic Jamaican accents. It may put more strain on the viewer to grasp each word, but it lends the extra ounces of credibility this product sorely needed. Ben-Adir and Lynch disappear into their roles, extending their acting chops beyond just simple mimicry. Their performances are the hints of why Paramount was allegedly planning for an awards-qualifying release before punting into the doldrums of February.

But those performances are all for naught once the music starts going. The concert scenes are obviously lip-synced, each one more rigid than the last. Cinematographer Robert Elswit struggles to create the illusion of thousands of screaming fans, nor do he and Green capture the uniqueness of reggae. A few flashbacks are splashed throughout to help explain Marley’s fascination with the music and Rastafarianism, but they end up being cheap crutches that only elongate the “feels one hour longer than it is” 104-minute runtime.

You need to ask yourself two questions after you’ve watched a biopic. Could I have gotten the same information just by reading the Wikipedia page? A “no” is the ideal answer, but a “yes” isn’t cause for automatic failure. If this is just a Wikipedia entry, was the presentation of the information at least entertaining? One Love is a capital Y-E-S and N-O to those questions, respectively, which begs the question of what was the point of any of this. Millions of dollars and years of work amounted to less than what I could get for free in just a couple of minutes.

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