Bob Marley: One Love Review – Hope You Like Jammin’, Too

Biopic has too many cooks in the kitchen, but one truly great performance

Concerts bookend the musical biopic Bob Marley: One Love, but audiences expecting to see the king of reggae to go out with a Bohemian Rhapsody-style bang won’t get the payoff. There’s lots of build-up to the 1978 One Love concert after the 1976 Smile Jamaica concert opens the film. But not much of either one appears Bob Marley: One Love.

Instead, Bob Marley: One Love looks at the time in between. It’s a story, produced by a cavalcade of Marleys, about the musician’s legacy, enduring music, and the message for peace that helped bridge a divided Jamaica. “Let’s get together and feel all right,” the song goes.

The odd time frame of Bob Marley: One Love hints at the many hands stirring the pot. However many cooks were in the kitchen, though, it’s refreshing that the script by Terence Winter, Frank E. Flowers, Zach Baylin, and director Reinaldo Marcus Green doesn’t take the usual cradle-to-grave biopic route. At the same time, a film written and re-written by the guys behind The Sopranos, Metro Manilla, King Richard, and Good Joe Bell, respectively, plays about as cohesively as it sounds. Add Marley’s wife Rita, and their kids Ziggy and Cedella Marley as producers—not executive producers, but full-on producers—and One Love inevitably provides a respectfully celebratory, if limited, portrait of one of the most influential musicians of all time. Given the political climate in which it’s premiering, though, Marley’s message of peace and love could do the airwaves and Spotify streams a world of good.

Marley and Marley

Film buffs looking for a crash course in all things Bob Marley, moreover, might be better off catching up with Kevin Macdonald’s expansive 2012 documentary Marley. The sprawling documentary offers an immersive, richly layered collage of music, archives, and interviews old and new. It feels like a definitive portrait, whereas One Love, perhaps, offers more of a nostalgic tribute. One gets the gist of Bob Marley from this biopic. A name check to record producer Chris Blackwell and an early glimpse at The Clash during the onset of London’s punk scene provide inside baseball for music nerds, but much might be lost on viewers who don’t bring the requisite Marley-savvy since the film offers a comparatively concise snapshot to represent Marley’s life and work.


But Macdonald’s documentary doesn’t have the drama’s performance by Lashana Lynch (No Time to Die) as Rita Marley. She steals the biopic from Kingsley Ben-Adir (Barbie), whose turn as Bob Marley gets the patois rhythms just right and oozes charisma, but lacks bite. Lynch, on the other hand, gets all the big moments of One Love. She’s the heart of the film with a hungry, fiery performance that reminds viewers that Marley’s music is more than mellow vibes: it’s about something. Any reason why the film leans into Rita’s dramatic presence, with Rita as producer, may be speculative. But Lynch consistently brings the dramatic spark the biopic needs with this outstanding performance. Come for Bob but stay for Rita.

The Rita Show

Moreover, Rita Marley is a total boss worthy of a film. One Love begins with talks about how Marley can soothe tensions between supporters of the People’s National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party leading up to an election, but a gunshot makes clear how high the tension and stakes are. Rita takes a bullet to the head when armed assailants storm the Marley compound in an assassination attempt. Her dreadlocks prevent the bullet from lodging itself into her brain and she takes the stage with Bob just days later. Before Taylor Swift told fans to “shake it off,” Rita did the real deal.

This strength characterizes Rita even when she fades into the background of the film. Marley sends her off to the States with the kids and he hops a plane to London. She later meets up with him and sasses him out a few times. Calling Bob out for his womanizing and shady entourage, Rita ensures that Marley can be the man that the people need him to be.

From Trench Town to London

The film also credits Rita for introducing Bob to Rastafarianism. Some hokey flashbacks show the couple in the early days of their romance. She brings the plucky aspiring singer to meet some dudes with dreadlocks and the rest is basically history. (One hopes, anyway, because the film doesn’t really deal with the time in between.) Cut back to London and Marley draws upon the Rasta ways—and a few deep, long puffs of weed—to inspire his music.


Weed and Marley go hand-in-hand, especially if the whiffs from the Toronto pre-screening crowd of One Love are any indication, and his mellow vibes channel the lessons of Rastafarianism into Exodus. The landmark 1977 album by Marley and the Wailers includes hits like “Jamming,” “Three Little Birds,” and the powerful title track. Its production comprises the bulk of the film’s latter half while people talk about how important Marley is between takes. This approach avoids the usual connect-the-dots approach with which biopics bridge milestones in a subject’s career. Moreover, Exodus has a message of freedom and emancipation, coupled with laid back vibes and mellow tunes, which reminds Marley about his audience and cause. It’s finally time to return to Jamaica for a liberating concert.

Anti-Climatic Concert

While One Love lets the credits roll as soon as Marley takes the stage for the titular concert, it does offer some snippets of the man behind the microphone. Ben-Adir has the swagger down pat and comfortably sways Marley’s braids with a swish-swish-swish. Scenes of the musician rehearsing with the Wailers, or strumming a tune for his kids, portray him as a poet with a voice that’s balm for the soul. For all the talk about how Marley needs to be the voice of the people, though, the film affords Ben-Amir few scenes to really invest emotionally in the man’s fight.

This framing often leaves the performance in the realm of a very good impersonation, whereas Rita resembles a real flesh-and-blood person. And without delivering the big number to which the story’s building, the portrait is rather anti-climactic. One Love tells audiences about Marley’s impact as a prince of peace, but never lets one feel it. The film needs this triumphant moment, although a late rehearsal scene with the kids proves quietly satisfying. The soundtrack consistently makes it a great time, too, and leaves one feeling mellow enough to be forgiving even without the big crescendo.

Bob Marley: One Love opens in theatres on Feb. 14.