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Bob Marley: One Love (Christian Movie Review)

About the Film 

Despite a tragically short life, Bob Marley casts a large shadow over music history. He was a complex man: a musician, national hero, and spiritual guru whose anthems continue to resonate with people. He wrote many hit songs, but not every budding musical idea flourishes. A songwriter may have a catchy melody, infectious rhythm, or snippets of profound lyrics yet not be able to fashion the individual parts into a successful song. Bob Marley: One Love suffers from a similar problem. The movie has all the necessary elements for a compelling biopic; it is well-acted, thematically interesting, and filled with enjoyable music. But as a cohesive and compelling portrait of its subject, the story falls surprisingly flat. Though not a poor film, it is lukewarm with a lot of unfulfilled potential.  

Musical biopics often use similar story structures and tropes. Bob Marley: One Love is no different, but it seeks to stand out by forgoing the conventional approach of tracing the historical figure’s life from birth to death. Instead, the film focuses on an important period in Marley’s life: the explosion of his worldwide fame and the culmination of his music and message in the 1978 One Love Peace Concert. Occasional flashbacks fill in some gaps in Marley’s personal history, but the movie strives for something loftier: an exploration of the relationship between art and the artist, and art and society.   

The film is a celebration of Bob Marley (a pre-film greeting by his son Ziggy Marley assures audiences that the family has been closely involved in the production). Therefore, the movie glosses over some of the more complicated aspects of his life, instead choosing to portray him as a tortured musical genius. An unfortunate consequence of the favorable portrayal, and also the decision to focus on wider thematic elements, is that Bob Marley as a man is largely held at a distance. The film offers audiences a surface-level picture of the man’s life without exploring his deeper struggles. Audiences may gain greater insight into the impact Marley’s music and legacy has had on the world, but the artist himself remains enigmatic.              

The film is bolstered by several strong performances. Kingsley Ben-Adir is great as Bob Marley, disappearing into the role and capturing the singer’s easygoing charisma. But the standout performance is Lashana Lynch as Rita Marley. As in The Woman King, Lynch demonstrates once again that she is a powerhouse actress. Scenes featuring these two characters—such as a heated argument in the streets of Paris—elevate the film and add some much-needed dynamism.  

As expected, there is plenty of music. Bob Marley is not a staple of my playlists, but the musical scenes are well done. There is enough variation in how the scenes are framed to keep them from growing stale, including concerts, rehearsals, and a stimulating scene during which Marley and his band write the hit song “Exodus” in real time.  

Each of the elements is solid, yet the film often feels like a racecar driver who revs his engine but never stomps on the gas. Bob Marley: One Love is at its best when exploring the complexity of its subject rather than offering a play-by-play of Marley’s career. Unfortunately, the filmmakers don’t commit to either path with enough conviction to gain momentum. Moments when Bob Marley is wrestling with the weight of his message are cut short to show a flashback or a concert. But even the career showcase feels incomplete. As a result, the film is too unfocused to explore its subject with the depth needed to elevate the film to anything beyond a standard musical biopic.   

Solid acting and captivating musical sequences make Bob Marley: One Love an entertaining movie. But with a larger-than-life subject, the film may leave viewers feeling like they got the B-side of the story rather than the main event.

On the Surface

For Consideration

Beneath The Surface

Engage The Film

Message and the Messenger      

Bob Marley saw no distinction between music and its message. The songs were more than mere entertainment; they were a pulpit from which to spread a gospel of love and spiritual oneness. Throughout the film, the emotional weight of this responsibility is evident. Eventually, Marley reaches a low point: “How can I bring peace? I can’t even get peace for myself?” Although he does not fully realize it, he has lost his way, and his actions are becoming disconnected from the message he proclaims. His wife urges him, “Sometimes the messenger must become the message.”  

Bob Marley’s spiritual beliefs were not Christian (see below), but Christians may relate to his struggles. As James wrote, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). There is synergy between word and deed. As Saint Francis of Assisi famously said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” Belief is not a message to proclaim but a way of life that informs every thought, word, and deed.  

As Bob Marley demonstrates, that harmony is not always easy to achieve. He admirably declares, “My life doesn’t matter to me. My life is for people.” He backs this assertion up several times, such as in a profound moment when he offers forgiveness to the man who attempted to assassinate him. Yet, while spreading this commendable message of love, he also left his wife and kids to live in the UK and had numerous extramarital affairs. People are complex and imperfect, but the Bible teaches Christians to strive to embody their message and become more like Christ.

Rastafari Religion       

Bob Marley was a deeply spiritual person and an advocate of the Rastafari religion. Rastafari is built on a specific interpretation of the Christian Bible. Biblical language is prevalent throughout the film and in Marley’s song lyrics. In fact, the film begins with Bob Marley being given a Bible. Later, he is shown reading from the book of Revelation and quoting other Bible passages. The album and title song “Exodus” uses the imagery of Moses and the Israelites coming out of Egypt.  

Despite the overlap, Marley’s religion is incompatible with Christianity. Among other things, it holds to a belief that Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I was the second coming of Jesus and that (despite his death) he would ultimately unite people and liberate Africans.  

Several scenes emphasize these spiritual views. In one moment, when Marley is first exposed to these beliefs, a preacher is declaring that God is not a blond, white man (combating the popular artistic representations of Jesus) but black. This man—the emperor Selassie— is called the “King of Kings” and “Lord of lords.” Drugs also play a role in his religion, with marijuana use heightening spiritual awareness. 

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