Weighing in at just shy of 150mins Marley, Kevin MacDonald’s ode to the life and legacy of Robert Nesta “Bob” Marley, manages to not sit heavily upon its audience being lifted by the tone of love and respect that infuses the work. Utilising a commendable blend of archival footage, talking head interviews, relevant scenic montage, and bridging voiceover, MacDonald – who proved his documentary nous in 2003 real life fable of mountaineering gone wrong Touching the Void – creates a rolling forward momentum well matched to the film’s subject and his music which pervades its soundscape from both the background and foreground.
MacDonald and his cinematographers create a similarly complementary visual flow to Marley with some great helicopter shots of Jamaica’s uninhabited hills, wide shots of rustic villages, details shots the crumbling splendour of significant buildings cut in between key faces and concert video recordings.
Though clearly a cheerleader for Marley’s life and music the filmmaker manages to maintain a balance in content and perspectives. Close friends are true if sometimes left hurting; his wife (and cornerstone ‘I Threes’ vocalist) Rita and girlfriends (in particular Cindy Breakspeare), for the most part, appear surprisingly accepting of his philandering. Whereas the kids (most screen time is with Ziggy and Cedella) seem somewhat more cynical, and even bitter, regarding their father’s almost prophetic standing and the social responsibilities that role entailed while they were growing up. And this is probably the main dramatic tension of the film: the competing private and public lives of Marley, who in many ways tried to unify these…with limited success. The film leaves you with a richly layered picture of a man who loved life and worked hard to integrate his faith and ideals into his everyday but also found the struggle quite trying. That Bob Marley achieved a great deal in his short life and had a global impact with his music and message is inarguable; that the man felt his own achievements or that he’d reached his own dreams we cannot be quite so sure and the film is more compelling for it.
Marley may not be a work of creative genius but is a thorough and loving investigation of its subject. As someone who grew up surrounded by the music Bob Marley (I literally wore out several cassettes from heavy use) I felt a special connection to this film and its cradle to grave overview of this iconic figure. But I think it is safe to say that someone who has no particular interest in Marley’s music but is interested in social histories from the world will take great pleasure from this informative, love drenched documentary.
Reviewed by: Jacob Powell