‘Marley’ Review

Published 3 years ago by , Updated November 26th, 2014 at 7:46 pm,

Marley a documentary by Kevin Macdonald review Marley Review

Marley paints a portrait of the famed musician in such a way that few films before it have been able to.

Many of us think we know Bob Marley. Years upon years of listening to the superstar reggae musician’s seminal works – not to mention his revered position within the zeitgeists of so many cultures – has fostered a natural sense of familiarity with the iconic figure, who stares out from the front of our tee-shirts or wall hangings with all the prominence of a religious figure.

If there is one thing to be said about the new documentary Marley – which looks back over life and career of Bob Marley – it’s that it clearly demonstrates the reality that many of us who think we know Bob Marley still have a lot to learn about the actual man, and the realities of his life story. For longtime fans and admirers who do know the details of Bob’s life, Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald’s (Last King of Scotland, One Day in September) documentary is a beautiful and reverent celebration of all that Marley was and has become in the eras since his passing.

Marley proudly touts the tagline of being the first documentary officially sanctioned by Marley family. In that sense, the film provides testimony from those who were actually close to Bob Marley and went through the journey of life alongside him. This means that we are getting first-hand insights from a large collection of people who were actually there, who actually know, rather than some studious fact-checker, scholar or filmmaker who simply thinks that they know (Macdonald remains behind the camera, allowing his “characters” to offer their accounts freely, with few prompts).

The “characters” themselves are also pretty entertaining to watch and listen to. They include Bob’s wife Rita, son Ziggy, daughter Cedella, longtime girlfriend Cindy Breakspeare (mother to hip-hop/reggae star Damian Marley), legendary record mogul Chris Blackwell, Trench Town locals who grew up with Bob and the various members of Marley’s band, “The Wailers,” who provide lively (and often heavily-accented) accounts of their times playing and touring with the musician. Bob himself is also ever-present throughout the film, thanks to an unprecedented collection of personal videos, recorded interviews, jam sessions, tour footage and everything in between that has captured and preserved the late musician’s essence onscreen. Each of these “characters” brings personality, insight and liveliness to the film, never letting it drag or slip into boredom – even at a running time of about two-and-a-half hours.

Rita Marley in Marley 2012 Marley Review

Bob’s wife Rita Marley in ‘Marley’

Visually, Marley is as lively and colorful as its characters. There are stunning shots of the Jamaican landscape all throughout the movie – from the lush green countryside and turquoise oceans,  to the muddy and rusted huts of Trench Town, to the colorful outfits worn by the locals – Macdonald brings the country to such vivid life that, at the very least, this documentary doubles as a pretty good tourism brochure. We also get looks at the many places Bob visited or lived during his life – from London, to Africa, to Germany – even his brief time spent growing marijuana and working blue-collar jobs in Wilmington, Delaware (who knew?). The old archive footage has been cleaned up and polished, presenting classic performances and interviews in a way that viewers of the HD era will be able to appreciate.

Macdonald makes the smart move of using music as our guide through Bob’s history, from his early days playing in Trench Town bands to the creation of Reggae and his Rastafarian spiritual awakening. The story is punctuated by many familiar Marley songs (plus some previously-unreleased recordings), creating that warm feeling of adoration that so many people have for the music, even as we come learn about the circumstances and context that helped create the songs we thought we knew and understood so well. It’s an eye-opening experience, to say the least (such as learning that many of Marley’s most famous songs came from a time and headspace when the musician was adhering (with militant discipline) to a religious practice that some might view as a cult).

Cedella Marley in Marley 2012 Marley Review

Bob’s daughter Cedella Marley in ‘Marley’

If there is one criticism I have with this documentary, it’s that it unquestionably favors and celebrates Bob Marley, while skipping over some of the more debatable or questionable aspects of his personality and choices. The film doesn’t ignore Marley’s shortcomings completely: for instance, his wife Rita is briefly questioned about how she balanced her love against Bob’s many affairs and illegitimate children, to which she gives a brief and concise response about greater purpose, which is exactly where Macdonald leaves the topic. However, Bob’s daughter Cedella is the only person who offers anything less than a shining picture, as she describes to us Bob Marley the questionable parent, rather than the world-renowned superstar. But again, the film only touches lightly on this topic here and there, quickly pulling away whenever things get too heavy or critical.

Admittedly, Macdonald was likely facing a double-edged sword when making this film: the approval of the Marley family and deep level of access likely came at the condition that the filmmakers wouldn’t besmirch Bob’s image and legacy. While Marley may be a bit too saccharine in some ways, by now Bob Marley – as an icon – is undoubtedly larger than his shortcomings as a man, and fans seeking out this documentary aren’t likely to mind the favorable bias, as they too want to celebrate the musician, rather than lower his pedestal.

In the end, Marley paints a portrait of the famed musician in such a way that few films before it have been able to. From the big moments to the small, viewers will walk away knowing Bob Marley in much more intimate and accurate fashion, rather than the specious, superficial or incomplete picture they may have had before.

Not-so-concidentally, Marley is being released in limited theatrical run and Video on Demand on April 20, 2012. It is Rated PG-13 for drug content, thematic elements and some violent images.

Our Rating:

4.5 out of 5

TAGS: Marley
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  1. Awesome, as a long time Marley fan I’ve been wanting to see a true documentary. Does it touch on the topics of him and Peter Tosh’s relationship?

    • It Does, Sully. The Wailers discuss it and there’s even recordings of both Marley and Tosh discussing it.

      • Good to know. Thanks, Kofi!

    • No you’re not, “amy”.

  2. Gosh this looks good, bob is some one of great interest,, i dont know much about his background on how he grew up, but i have always loved his stuff,, I would love to see this to get the whole picture, also there in nothing like going to see a good picture. There is only one problem there is going to be few dying to light up watching this in the pictures. I remember when you could smoke years ago,

    I never forget going to see the doors in Dublin when it came out it was mad, i remember a few at the back smoking the mad stuff when you could smoke,, it was mad,, i have to say when they came out of the picture they nearly forgot what film they went to see,,, its a bit like coming out of a Dublin pub locked and saying afterwords was i drunk,, did i drink at all….

    it was the funniest time i ever had in the flicks,, the hash rings swirling down towards you,, i smelled but in the words of Bill clinton i never inhaled,, but some of them where nearly getting thrown out,, they where sort off singing a shouting at the concert scenes,,

    I just wonder will anyone try to light up,, im kidding,, but there is more to Bob than smoking, he seemed to be a very upbeat kind of guy,, id say he was a good down to earth kind of guy that was passionet for life, and people, to me he seemed to have a hunger for God, life, people, freedom, creativity and being with people.

    His music has power to lift you out and up to the sunlight,, when i hear his songs i always feel like it the sun coming up into the miday,, God bless hIm,, I so wish i could have known him, I love redemption song , i love singing and playing that when i get a chance to gig or sing… and the words are so profound even now ,, have no fear for automic energy none of it is going to stop the time,, emanacipate yourself from mans slavery, nothing but our selfs are going to free our minds ,, there is allot of sacred truths in his music there,,

    the words in that song ”could l you be loved”” there direct, straight at us, strong wise,, true,, well im looking forward to this documentary..

    I hope some day they make the film like they done with cash and ray,, but this one is a must for any music lover…..

    • Nice Comment!!!. Marley will always be the best

  3. Great review, Kofi. This is on my “must see” list.

  4. I went to see it on sunday, it very good, a must see, by all accounts, as i said in the other tweet, i did not know much about Bob the man and his life only small bits. But i know have the full picture and i have to say it was very good to go and see I think i would go to see it a second time it was that good.

    I always wondered what was rastafarian was and who was Hilas silasi (i have the spelling wrong but you know who I mean). It was great sunday afternoon to go and see this picture if any of you dig music and Bob this is a must.

    I was astounded to discover how he passed away. I wont spoil it if you dont know, but i was like Oh My God, this is hard to believe. The way that they treat this in the film is very good how they weave it in and out and in again to what lead to Bob passing away.

    It an education, its very entertaining, it almost reminds me of the in way the documentary film that was done on John Lennon in the late 70s where they show him demoing Imagine for the first time and the recording process of his last album.

    so bobs film is good if you love his music and its also for allot of us out there that only know the music and not the man,, its worth seeing all the best,,

  5. Interesting read, thanks. I haven’t seen it yet, but based on your comments, it looks like his shortcomings were definitely skipped over or left out. Not something that a documentary should ever do, it’s something dishonest “documentaries” such as the Michael Moore kind do by cutting and editing to remove context and make a point.
    It looks enjoyable, I was a Marley fan before he was famous and saw him live in the old days. There are 3 or 4 very good documentaries about Marley, with interviews that get into his mindset and thinking which may leave some with a lower opinion of him, but it is the truth, and that’s what a documentary should strive for.
    This is all conjecture, can’t wait to see it, and if I’m reading too much into your review, I’ll come back here and correct myself.

    • thanks Nick, wow you where blessed to see him live ,, I only know one other person who saw him live,, if your into him and his music, Im just wondering have you ever heard of a great irish singer songwriter by the name of Damien Dempsey. You might want to check him out, He is Dublin born but he has a spirit and a vibe that is seems to really evoke something of marly. I had the privilige of knowing him and jamming with him in rock school, if you know any other marly fans tell them to check Damien Dempsey he tours the states and all around the world,, all the best

  6. Anyone know why Damian was not featured in the movie? I was really hoping to hear his point of view, as one of Bob’s kids with one of the “other women”.

  7. yep its a good movie…:)

  8. Bob Marley and Facebook. He must be rolling over in his grave.