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Bob Marley’s universal appeal, impact on music history, and role as a social and political prophet is both unique and unparalleled. MARLEY is the definitive life story of the musician, revolutionary, legend, and the man, from his early days to his rise to international superstardom. Made with the support of the Marley family, the film features rare footage, never before seen performances, previously unreleased music, and revelatory interviews with the people that knew him best.
Bob Marley’s musical (and cultural) shadow is so large that the man clearly needed an authoritative documentary portrait–and Marley steps in with all the right stuff to fill the role. Working with official rights to the music and access to Marley’s family and friends, Oscar-winning documentarian Kevin Macdonald (One Day in September) creates a thorough account that hits the major points, not stinting on some of the less admirable aspects of Marley’s life (including his brood of children fathered with women other than his patient wife, Rita, whose presence indicates just how much she puts Marley’s legacy above his personal infidelities). Especially interesting is the sketch of Bob Marley’s youth, as a mixed-race–and thus socially ostracized–kid from the village of Nine Mile who began to put together a reggae sound with a group of like-minded musicians in Jamaica in the late ’50s and early ’60s. That period comes to life, and the account of Marley’s ascent, while familiar from such sagas, has its share of offbeat incidents. His death, at age 36 in 1981, does not dominate the movie, but Macdonald does a good job of getting that story laid out. In the meantime, the music and the concert footage are more than enough to justify the movie’s existence, and Macdonald makes time to include thoughts about politics, ganja smoking, and Rastafarianism, too. If it’s not the final word on Marley, it’s an excellent start. –Robert Horton