Movie Review: Marley

By Stephen Rebello

The must see documentary on reggae star Bob Marley

Director: Kevin Macdonald

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Studio: Magnolia Pictures

Bob Marley’s brief, extraordinary life and times gets an exhaustive 2 ½-hour workout in the compulsively watchable, remarkable new documentary, Marley.  Directed by feature filmmaker/documentarian Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland), after failed attempts by Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme, the movie flows back and forth between rare concert footage of the reggae giant and interviews with his musical collaborators, family, and various women, some of whom are the mothers of his 11 kids. 

Marley, born of a teenage single mom and a white 60-year-old British marine captain, became an outcast in his native Jamaica for the lighter skin and features that betrayed his biracial roots.  Surrounded by crippling poverty, ugly colonialism and explosive political conflict, Marley channeled some of his confusion, rage, and power into music that is ferocious, highly political, and ridiculously catchy.  The planet is better for it.  Even if Marley leaves us hungry for more, especially showing him in a full performance or delving more deeply into the role his controversial Rastafarianism played in his existence, the movie—family controlled and authorized as it is—mostly avoids sanctifying or demonizing the artist in a haze of ganja or fan dazzle.  

We take away from this beautifully made, fascinating, and intimate movie a portrait of a man who made deeply felt, politically infused reggae an international sensation.  Although Marley’s immense talent, drive, charisma, marketing savvy, and complexity are too big for any film or book to capture, here, at least, they emerge in vibrant glory.  If the sheer length of the movie doesn’t do you in, you’ll probably be sent running to hear more of the icon’s ground-breaking, infectious music.  At least that can’t be family approved or sanitized.


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