This often charming and witty biographical documentary unearths a wealth of information about its impactful subject, iconic reggae musician Bob Marley who died at age 36 in 1981 after a short battle with a gestating cancer.
Marley is confidently made by Kevin MacDonald, who brings a documentary-style realism to many of his fictionalized works like The Last King of Scotland, even the more recent State of Play as well as nonfiction ones like The Last Day in September. He knows there's quite a multi-stranded story of a political and social prophet with universal appeal and chronologically takes his time. The multiple interviewees though aren't necessarily of the ordinary type, as the filmmaker is able to more than hold one's attention through those closest to a legend, including bandmates and family members.
Bob's father was Britain and into forestry as well as a Marine and his mother was a black teenager. During his teens he relocated to a favela named Trenchtown, a Kingston, Jamaica suburb, and felt his biracial roots. With a band called The Wailers he found success in the 1960s' before Island Records executive Chris Blackwell helped market the group (through a subversive edge) to much greater, even global success. In the decade before his unexpected passing, Marley had to make some lineup changes while commanding large live audiences to promote a series of hit tunes.
You can see how the man was influential as an artist, but there is a lot to cinematically ingest through quite a collection of home movies, early recordings, concert and newsreel footage, as well as photos interspersed with interviews with a person looked at many like a messiah strongly influenced by the Rasti movement. Marley wasn't a traditional lady killer while fathering 11 children by seven women with a diffident side time as backup singer Rita remained his loyal wife throughout as accounts unveil the aura of his magnetism with the opposite sex.
MacDonald delves into the personality and relationships with some ambiguity (that may leave some viewers a little out of the loop of a complex personal life) as some heartbreak and struggle is felt through the appearance of daughter Cedella expressed through the absence in her life of her father. The ardor of Marley is evident in many incidents of his life, from his many affairs to a concert performance beset with teargas. From an attack in his native Kingston, it's clear how he became a politically charged unifying figure, making many a stand against malfeasance and persecution. Even when he comes back to Jamaica during a tour as a looming mediator and calming presence.
A thoughtful expose of the man may only be lacking when it comes to more than the highlights of his music doled out in pinches before longer airplay over the final credits scroll. Perhaps the attention to detail can make for some weariness from a distance, but in this case not nearly enough when it comes to the truthful, vivid rendering of a wide-reaching genre of music from a challenging, if prescient and stimulating artist.