This slow and serious portrayal of iconic reggae musician Bob Marley lacks authenticity and emotion. A better film could have been created to showcase Marley’s remarkable journey, musical talent, and selfless sacrifice as he battled illness to organize a concert for peace and unity in Jamaica in 1978.
This is a respectful movie in the style of Hallmark Channel, created with the cooperation of the family – almost every relative is listed as an associate producer. It also has all the necessary musical rights, and the popular songs are featured. This is always a positive aspect. There are also moments when the movie comes to life without being overly pious, such as when the young members of The Wailers (including Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer) gather in a chaotic studio in Kingston in 1963 and passionately perform “Simmer Down,” a song that Marley continued to develop throughout his life, urging people to reject violence. However, overall, this film is tense and reverential.
Kingsley Ben-Adir, a highly regarded actor, does not seem to be the best fit for the role of Marley. In the midst of his fame in the 1970s, Marley becomes involved in a gang conflict in Jamaica and narrowly escapes an assassination attempt at his home. However, the depiction of the attempted murder is lackluster and uneventful. It’s almost as if the movie is anticipating Marley’s eventual forgiveness towards his attacker. The scene lacks intensity.
Marley needs to escape from danger temporarily, so he ends up back in his home country, Britain, which is known for its rainy weather and racism. Even among the punk community, with whom reggae musicians used to ally, prejudice is present. However, Marley enjoys playing soccer in the park and is more approachable to the public than most famous musicians. It is in this setting that he and the Wailers create their iconic album Exodus and perform a legendary concert at London’s Rainbow theatre in Finsbury Park in 1977.
Lashana Lynch portrays Marley’s wife, Rita, with grace and composure, while the film briefly acknowledges Bob’s extramarital affairs and children, though it is swiftly dismissed as irrelevant. (The film also ignores Marley’s disagreement with the prevalent homophobia in Jamaica.) The recording studio and corporate offices are portrayed in a familiar manner, with Michael Gandolfini portraying the oblivious American businessman. James Norton calmly takes on the two-dimensional role of Island Records executive Chris Blackwell.
In a few flashbacks, Marley’s childhood is shown, but they are brief and unimpressive. The mystery of his absent white father is resolved by Bob’s embrace of Rastafarianism. This can be seen as his return to Jamaica, similar to Palm Sunday in Christianity, although the actual concert is not depicted. However, the portrayal lacks the excitement and inspiration one would expect from such a moment.