A “redemption song” for anyone dreaming of a musician profile done right, this robust and admirably unresolved tribute to Bob Marley, the man and his moment, comes courtesy of an unlikely producing source: the reggae legend’s family. Made in cooperation with son Ziggy (a co–executive producer) and supported by a full complement of revealing new interviews with collaborators, adversaries and even a studio janitor, Marley sets up clash as its central theme. Sonically, there’s the genius who bridged lighthearted utopianism with militant ferocity. Socially, we see soccer-obsessed Rastas living in uneasy proximity to London punks. And visually, Jamaica’s verdant hills lead to the icescapes of wintry Germany, where Marley spent his final months as a 36-year-old cancer patient in 1981.
Embodying all of the conflict, not always gracefully, is the icon himself, unavoidably a mystery (little interview footage exists), yet brought to life by The Last King of Scotland’s Kevin Macdonald with a rare degree of complexity. The product of a mixed-race, short-lived union and a shockingly poor Trenchtown childhood, Marley is evinced as both warm and cool in equal measure. Widow Rita and Miss World girlfriend Cindy Breakspeare speak of a driven, spiritual man; children remember a competitive, sometimes insensitive parent. Infidelities are discussed, along with a necessary dose of corrective calculation: Marley was hardly a naive pawn in his rise, nor had he thought out all the angles. The tunes, flooding every frame, remain perfect.
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