out of Five
Running time: 145
Impressively directed and exhaustively researched, Kevin Macdonald's enjoyable documentary is by turns fascinating, moving and uplifting, though it doesn't quite get to grips with Bob's complex personal life.
What's it all about?
Directed by Kevin Macdonald, Marley is an exhaustively researched documentary about the life and work of Bob Marley, clocking in at just under two and a half hours. Narrated chronologically via a series of talking heads, the film traces Marley from his birth (as the illegitimate son of a white forestry worker and a black teenage
mother) in rural Jamaica to local success as a musician in the 1960s, leading to global celebrity (after becoming involved with Island Records in the 1970s) and finally his tragic death from cancer at the height of his fame in 1981, aged just 36.
With the backing and support of Marley's family, Macdonald has assembled a wealth of terrific archive material, including photos, home movies, concert footage, newsreel clips, interviews and early recordings. He's also lined up an extensive collection of talking heads, which eschews the usual collection of journalists and musical contemporaries in favour of friends, family, band members and people who had close personal connections to Bob.
What emerges from the film is a complex portrait of a man who seemed to be many things to many people: he was an adulterer (he fathered 11 children by seven women, all while remaining married to backing singer Rita Marley), a disappointing father and could be prone to violence, but he was also politically impassioned, dedicated to peace and seen as an almost messianic figure (there's an astonishing moment when Marley is recalled back from touring in order to calm the political situation in Jamaica ... and it works).
Needless to say, Macdonald unearths some terrific anecdotes, the highlights of which include an altercation with Marley's thieving agent, an affair with a dictator's daughter (Pascaline Bongo Ondimba, daughter of President Bongo of Gabon), getting two rival white party leaders to shake hands at a peace concert and playing through a tear gas attack while on stage. On top of that, Macdonald's appreciation for Marley's work is infectious and he's careful to convey an understanding of the music's origins early on in the film (which opens with footage of a Ghanaian slave fort) as well as including some terrific concert material.
The only real problem with the film is that it slightly glosses over both Marley's multiple affairs (we don't really understand why Rita was so willing to turn a blind eye) and his less-than-satisfactory relationships with his children – only two (Ziggy and Cedella) are interviewed and it's heart-breaking to watch his daughter struggle with her clearly unresolved feelings for her largely absent father.
Marley is a thoroughly entertaining documentary that's a treat for Bob Marley fans and newcomers alike, thanks to a wealth of terrific archive material and assured direction from Kevin Macdonald. Recommended.