Director: Kevin Macdonald
Starring: Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley, Jimmy Cliff
Synopsis: A documentary about the life, death, and legacy of Rastafarian, reggae-legend, Bob Marley.
Going through a string of directors, the ultimate Bob Marley documentary would have got postponed indefinitely were it not for Kevin Macdonald. The Scottish-born director might not have been the most sought after person for the project (Hollywood heavy-weights such as Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme being signed up for some time) but his enthralling filmography that included the documentary Touching the Void and Oscar-winning, The Last King of Scotland clearly took gave the studios confidence in him.
Macdonald’s knack for story-telling is perfect for recounting the uplifting and poignant story of the iconic Marley. Plus, unlike past films trying to do the same, the director brings forth an assortment of friends of family that give stories and opinions not documented until now. We get a sense of this extensive account right from the opening where the camera swoops over the remote Nine Mile village in Jamaica. Bringing his crew and his audience to the very heartland of Bob’s life to begin the documentary, Macdonald illustrates his aim to leave no stone unturned.
From the rustic homeland to the pulsating city of Trenchtown, Kingston, the director follows the ascent of Marley’s stardom with precision. Having a fusion of music, news and old television footage, and photos all relating to the Rasta king, there is never a dull moment. For those who know very little about the man, Marley offers you an easy, entertaining and emotional education. Running through the life of the reggae-sensation, up to his untimely death is a rags-to-riches story full of vibrancy and grace. The story is fascinating and almost plays out like a formulaic Hollywood piece: Bob was bullied at an early age due to his mixed race origins; he goes on to become a massive star; his wisdom and passion for peace helps his country out enormously; he struggles with a deadly illness; he dies and leaves behind an astonishing legacy, eternally iconic for being who he wanted to be. An uplifting story if you ever heard one - treated with incredible prowess from the director.
Those interviewed to speak of Bob, adding even more depth to the piece, include his family (son Ziggy, daughter Cedella and wife Rita), his friends, and some of his old band-members (such as Jimmy Cliff). Switching between footage of the man himself and then the interviewees builds up a grand and detailed assessment of Bob. As well showing formality in the recollection of Marley’s life, Macdonald also mixes in a wealth of comedy and vivacity - from the interviews with the characters Bob met along his way to the rhythms of Bob’s discography.
The film has a life of its own despite it recollecting a past one, with music punctuating each step of Marley’s life. News of Andre 3000’s Jimi Hendrix biopic being devoid of Hendrix’s music makes you wonder how it could have such an impact when with something like Marley works so well due to the music correlating with dialogue and cinematography in order to celebrate the figure as dynamically as possible. As any music fan understands, certain tracks appeal to certain situations and feelings; Marley’s repertoire is quite extensive yet Macdonald’s acute ear shuffles that backlog perfectly throughout the film.
As the film finishes, the credits roll accompanied by a montage of fans all over the world singing “Three Little Birds”. You are left in awe of the man (more so if you were a fan already, won over if you weren’t) and his music. It’s a staple of a great biopic or documentary on an artist that when it’s over you are inspired to seek their work out – Marley unquestionably achieves that. Were it not for the 15 certificate (given understandably for the language and tales of drugs and violence), the film would be enjoyed by everyone, and rightly so.
By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on Flickering Myth