Marley ★★★★½

I've greatly enjoyed the work of Bob Marley (more than just Legend, if you must know), but I consider myself a casual fan. I didn't know much about the man's life or beliefs besides what could be gleaned from his songs, and even then, I didn't know what the Rastafarian movement was about. Like most important cultural figures, Marley has become so revered and iconic as to be mythical. In his case, he's also attracted a perpetually stoned fanbase that makes getting to the heart of the real man even more difficult. Luckily, Kevin Macdonald (State of Play, The Last King of Scotland), taking over a project originally intended for Martin Scorsese and later Jonathan Demme, sweeps away most pre-conceived notions in this thorough, moving account of Marley's life.

Marley's mother was a young Jamaican woman, his father a white 50-year-old captain in the Royal Marines. Marley grew up being teased for his mixed heritage and reflecting on his identity. To escape the violence surrounding him, Marley turned to his music, eventually forming the Wailers. The Wailers were initially inspired by groups like the Temptations, but Marley's Rastafarian beliefs turned their music into something else. (A news report included in the film describes Rastafari as a cult, which...seems accurate?) The portrait that emerges of Marley is a man gripped by his music, floating through life with a reckless abandon that's both admirable and worrying. Though his mission was to spread peace and love throughout the world--the film's high point comes when Marley gets two rival politicians to come together on stage during a 1978 concert--there are disconcerting interviews with those closest to him. His wife appears to have been a wife in name only; he had 11 children altogether, but only a few with her. He seemed to distance himself from his children, an interview with his daughter Cedella coming across sad and bitter. These contradictions, a man who wanted to unite the world but with little use for a traditional family, a stage performer gripped with religious fervor and a man who admits his heart could be tough as stone, brings to mind my favorite artist of the 20th century, John Lennon.

Since Marley has become synonymous with Jamaica throughout so much of the world, the film not only educates in regards to Bob but also his homeland. I was surprised by how much I learned about both the man and the country. The footage of Jamaica is beautiful, the interviews are compelling, the music is great, and of course the man at its center is a legend.