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None of Jamaica’s most famous musician’s charisma is present in this Bob Marley biopic, not in star Kingsley Ben-Adir’s one-note performance, nor in the fake rebellious tone that drags the movie down.

The unexpectedly huge box office opening of Bob Marley: One Love proves that the reggae superstar still resonates with modern audiences. Yet if you watch the movie you are none the wiser about why he felt compelled to bring a message of societal change to his music.

On the contrary, the picture treads all too familiar biopic territory with a story of broken homes, absent fathers and finding solace in love, friends and religion. It’s a safe, often boring approach, all the more so because e.g. his love for weed and his occasional penchant for sudden fits of rage are glossed over.

Compounding One Love’s problems is a lethargic central performance by Kingsley Ben-Adir that is all accent mimicry and zero insight, partly due to the underwritten script, but mostly because of the actor’s one-note, overly subdued work. He hardly even registers emotion when his wife (a severely underused Lashana Lynch) is shot in the head or when he gets the cancer verdict that would cut short Marley’s life.

Add the fact that Marley’s music isn’t used stirringly in any scene (a playbacking Ben-Adir doesn’t help) and that subtext and context are mostly relegated to on-screen title explanations at the beginning and the end of the movie, and you’ll understand why I’ll never call Bob Marley: One Love a successful biopic in any way.

release: 2024

director: Reinaldo Marcus Green

starring: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Lashana Lynch, James Norton, Tosin Cole


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