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Jewish Actor Is Marvelous as Bob Marley

Kingsley Ben-Adir delivers a performance that could get him nominated for an Oscar as the Jamaican reggae superstar in “Bob Marley: One Love.”
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February 15, 2024
Jewish actor Kingsley Ben-Adir learned to play guitar for the role of Bob Marley.

Kingsley Ben-Adir is an actor who is used to playing historical figures. He’s played Malcolm X (in 2020’s “One Night in Miami”), former President Barack Obama (in Showtime’s “The Comey Rule”), and in his highest-profile performance to date, he brilliantly depicts Jamaican superstar Bob Marley. He is able to get down Marley’s thick Jamaican accent and and cadence, and, more impressively, inhabits Marley’s charismatic on-stage presence.

Most of “One Love” is set in the two years between Marley’s self-exile to England after the attempt on his life two days before he was set to headline the free, government-organized “Smile Jamaica” concert, and his return to his homeland for the triumphant “One Love” concert. The film shows Marley as a man determined. He insists on performing appearing after the shooting, even though everyone around him tells him it’s too dangerous.  Ben-Adir is exceptionally charismatic in every scene. Lashana Lynch delivers a striking performance as his wife Rita, who is always seen  wearing a heavy gold  Magen David necklace. They were Rastafarians, who believe themselves to be the “lost tribe of Israel.”  Rastas consider marijuana a sacred herb, and Marley is rarely without a huge spliff or pipe; he constantly  praises Halie Selassie, the former emperor of Ethiopia, whom Rastas  call “Jah Rastafari” and “The Lion of Judah.”

The film boasts several intense flashbacks: a young Marley and the Wailers audition for the legendary and quick-tempered Lee “Scratch” Perry, who initially dismisses the group as “bad R&B,” but signs them when they strt playing an original ska number, “Simmer Down,” which becomes their first Jamaican hit. But since the movie was made with the approval (and participation) of the Marley family, the film downplays moments that it should pump up. Marley’s volcanic anger and his constant womanizing are given scant screentime. And Marley’s decision not to have a cancerous toe amputated, an operation that could have saved his life, makes no emotional connection.

As Howard Bloom, a powerful Jewish publicist, Michael Gandolfini is memorable trying to talk Marley out of releasing “Exodus” with a minimalist cover. He pleads with Bob that he can’t sell a record without Bob’s picture on the cover. (In an amusing scene, Bob decides to call the album “Exodus” after one of the Wailers plays the soundtrack LP from the 1960 film.)  James Norton turns in a solid performance as Chris Blackwell, Marley’s producer and founder of Island Records.

It’s cute to see Marley in the car singing “Three Little Birds “to his kids, its refrain “Don’t you worry about a thing/’cause every little thing’s gonna be alright” taking their minds  There’s not a scene where you don’t hear at least a snippet of a Marley song. I would have liked to see a full performance of “No Woman No Cry,” but the movie manages to include a healthy representation of Marley’s music, including an inspiring “Redemption Song.”

Despite its drawbacks, “Bob Marley: One Love” is an impressive vehicle for Ben-Adir to show his talent and his fame will rise.

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