Kevin McDonald is probably most well-known for his 2006 feature The Last King of Scotland, for which Forest Whitaker’s terrifying portrayal of Idi Amin won a Best Actor Oscar. But he started his career making documentaries exclusively, and put himself on the map with 2003’s impressive Touching the Void. Marley sees a return to those roots, looking back at the life and career of the legendary Jamaican reggae artist.
The film gives and full and honest account of Bob Marley’s life: from his humble beginnings in a small country village, where he was raised by his mother; through his rise to fame in Jamaica; his exile in London; his subsequent return to the island of his birth and finally his death, from cancer, at the age of 36. The story is told using archive footage and interviews with Marley himself, as well as recent interviews with friends, family members and ex-band members who are still living. The film covers all the significant moments that shape who we perceive Bob Marley as: the attempt that was made on his life in 1976; the One Love Peace Concert in 1978, where he got the two leaders of Jamaica’s warring Political Parties to hold hands in a sign of peace, an event which says a great deal about Marley but which ultimately and unfortunately did little to quell a deadly conflict; his final concert in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1980, after being told his cancer was terminal.
Whilst covering the major milestones however, Marley does not shy away from giving a full picture of the man behind the legend, and that is one of the film's greatest decisions. While showing Bob Marley to be a great musician and a great man – a man with a passion for dancing and football – it isn’t afraid to look at his less impressive traits. Marley was a prolific womaniser, who parented 11 children with seven different women despite having a wife, Rita. While he was incredibly driven musically, this often came at the cost of his friends and family. Bob Marley may have been worshipped as a deity, and still is to this day, but he was by no means a perfect person during his lifetime.
The music that accompanies the film consists of Bob Marley and Wailers hits both lesser-known and definitive, starting with the first song he recorded aged 16, and ending with One Love. A rare and brilliant version of No Woman No Cry, featuring Peter Tosh on piano, plays at one point. Needless to say, Marley’s soundtrack is one of the best of any film ever made. But the impact Bob Marley had on the world transcends beyond his music, it is the message he spread, of peace, of one love. He was very significant in promoting the Rastafarian movement and, while never choosing to ‘pick sides’ had significant influence over Jamaica’s political scene. Perhaps one of the most rewarding parts of this documentary is what it teaches us about Jamaica’s troubled past, about the shaping of its culture, and that is fitting, since Marley and his homeland go hand in hand.
Ultimately, Marley is a meticulous portrait of a legend that truly gets to the heart of who he was and what he stood for. It is fitting testament to a man whose impact on the world resonates to this day, and will continue to resonate long into the future.
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