Kevin McDonald’s weighty documentary about the life of Bob Marley holds surprises for fans and non fans alike. Full of expertly directed interviews stretching back to Marley’s birth place, to his London exile and world wide acclaim, right up until his death at age 36 of cancer, Mc Donald dazzles picking up where both Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme left off. Their failed attempts for the Weinsteins to get the story of one of the largest musical icons to the screen were met with groans from music lovers and film lovers alike. After the racing but unsatisfying State of Play and the barely average The Eagle it’s good to see McDonald back at the helm of a seriously good non-fiction work.
Through the certainly lengthy film (144 minutes), we’re witness to the young Bob growing up without a father in a tiny, powerless town in Jamaica, before learning quickly to play the guitar and high tailing it to Kingston to make music with The Wailers. Lee “Scratch” Perry, Jimmy Cliff and every living member of his seminal band are all found here, piecing together the humble beginnings of Marley’s political birth as a world wide superstar, in a potent, often funny and wonderfully textured fashion. As with documentary on artists of this scale it often feels cut short in places, eschewing some of the more simple character of it’s focus for the big stop gaps but, all in all, Marley is fascinating film to watch and even if you’re unfamiliar with the man’s history it will certainly turn you to some of his work.
Marley himself comes of as something of a wide eyed dreamer, a kid, someone fascinated with something bigger than the music he made yet held to it as a way to sing his Rastafari beliefs. Marley is far from painted as a complete saint. His womanising and unusually close, but obviously unusual relationship with his wife and his many children are often brought up and there is something strained in the words found by his kids when talking about his parenting or, often, lack thereof.
As McDonald completes his next film the British thriller How I live Now, Marley certainly adds another string to his impressive documental cannon, standing alongside the devastating One Day in September and the perfect Touching The Void. Though not as powerful as either in many ways, Marley succeeds in a loose, free flowing biography where his past efforts have excelled in punch, making it a beautifully made film about a strong, creative and peaceful soul.