Although he’s inarguably one of the biggest musical and cultural figureheads of all time, reggae artist Bob Marley hasn’t had a truly great biopic made about him until now. Director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, State of Play) was granted unprecedented access to rare, unseen material by the Marley family to paint a picture of a brilliant, but flawed man that some considered to be truly God-like. At two hours and twenty four minutes, watching Marley is certainly a formidable undertaking, but for those looking for the most comprehensive portrait of the man possible there are few sources that feel more vital than this.
From his early, less documented days as a doo-wop influenced artist in the rough Trench Town area of Kingston to his untimely death from melanoma related complications in 1981, Macdonald looks to leave no stone unturned in creating as balanced a picture of the man as possible. Much is made of Marley’s desire to inspire and engage those around him while remaining a staunchly apolitical voice for peace and change back home, even when it nearly costs him his life and he’s forced to flee to London. The film also does great service to the musical legacy that came both before and after Bob, working also as a great history lesson looking at reggae culture and ska.
It isn’t all laudatory, however. Bob’s family openly and freely discusses his problems with his father, his almost staggering infidelity, and his cold distance between him and his children. It’s interesting to note just where the people around Bob have ended up in their lives. His wife seems to have always been at peace with Bob’s sleeping around, seeing what they did as being almost akin to missionary work. His son Ziggy seems to have gained some understanding with time, but his daughter Cedella still seems to hold some conflicted feelings towards her father’s legacy, and many viewers might think that her trepidations are pretty well founded.
While some of the more anecdotal asides about Marley could be cut in terms of pacing and narrative, they all speak to how much his music has endured to this day. For fans and pop culture history buffs, this is one you won’t want to miss.
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald
Top image: Bob Marley in a still from Marley. Courtesy eOne Films.