Monday, February 12, 2024

An abridged view of Bob Marley's life

  Aside from a stop as one the Kens in Barbie, British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir might be en route to an icon-centered career. In Regina King's One Night in Miami, Ben-Adir gave an almost bookish spin to his portrayal of Malcolm X.  Now, he appears as Bob Marley in director Reinaldo Marcus Green's Bob Marley: One Love
  Speaking in Marley's Jamaican patois, Ben-Adir radiates the power of Marley's stardom, along with a sense that, like many stars, something about Marley evaded capture. Ben-Adir, by the way, did his own singing. 
   Far from a comprehensive biopic, One Love covers the years 1976 to 1978, referencing Marley's youth in vaguely drawn flashbacks. 
   The flashbacks -- like lyrics in a memory song -- too often leave us wanting more information about Marley's formative years and certainly more about the journey that elevated Marley and his band, The Wailers, to prominence in the reggae world and beyond.
    After an assassination attempt on his life during a period of intense political strife in his native Jamaica, Marley moved to London, where much of the movie takes place. 
   Green's major accomplishment involves allowing his movie to spin in Marley's orbit, giving us flashes of how stardom in Europe pushed him off-center. We also get glimpses of Marley's Rastafarian beliefs, his copious ganja consumption, and his interactions with the Wailers.
      Marley's wife Rita (a magnetic Lashana Lynch) gives the movie its steadiest beat. She eventually erupts over Marley's infidelities and excesses. standing her ground with fiery conviction.
      Even in a movie that covers only two years, it sometimes feels as if Green (King Richard) is skimming,   touching on Marley's multiracial background and his conversation to Rastafarianism. He was raised as a Catholic.
      Much attention is given to the creation of Marley's signature album, Exodus, and the movie's other musical numbers land on the right bases, e.g., I Shot the Sheriff, No Woman, No Cry, and Get Up, Stand Up.  Ben-Adir captures Marley's on-stage performing style, nailing the agitated moves that animated his presence.
      One Love culminates with Marley's triumphant return to Jamaica, where he was adored. Ben-Adir's performance, replete with winking humor -- makes clear why Marley became an admired avatar of liberation and of a pan-Africanism that melded spiritual and musical aspiration.
     Marley died from melanoma at the age of 36. Brief as it was, his life deserved a richer movie. Despite the virtues of its performances, One Love feels truncated, even fragmentary.
     For now, Marley's music will have to stand as his most enduring legacy.

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