Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on August 2012
Bob Marley, the king of reggae—then, now and forever—sang for the world. His message of global unity, articulated in songs like “One Love” and “Judge Not” (recorded at age 16), survives, indeed thrives. His tunes could even be heard during the recent Arab Spring. This diligent, two-and-a-half-hour, cradle-to-grave documentary by Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland; Touching the Void) covers a lot of ground, starting with Marley’s meager beginnings in a hillside shack in Jamaica and the bullying he received due to his racially mixed origins (which would ultimately define his music). Yet it remains narratively coherent and avoids hagiography. The film’s most compelling moment comes when Marley brings onstage rival politicians Michael Manley and Edward Seaga in an effort to heal a vicious rift in Jamaican politics. The interviews with family, friends, mentors and musicians are frank and open, warts and all (other than a rather open attitude toward marital fidelity, he had few). Previously unseen concert footage and home movies round out this quietly revelatory character study. Marley was generous, gentle, magnetic… and a bit naïve. The cancer that killed him in 1981 at age 36 could have been treated.