I can imagine how hard has be making a film on such an icon as Bob Marley. We are talking about a universal legend, a myth that goes beyond the human being, the musician, his influence and his legacy, including the social and political side. But considering the potential of the material and what a good filmmaker is Kevin Macdonald, I can only qualify this film as a big disappointment.
Labelled as the "definitive life story" of the Jamaican musician and world icon, "Marley" is not much more aside an extremely long, lush and epic hagiography. Using a strictly biographical account, from childhood to death, based on tones of footage and bits of interviews from the people who knew him close, the rockumentary evolves steadily, but without anything really remarkable, revelatory or just engaging for the spectator. It's a very comfortable work for Macdonald and Marley fans. Most of the interventions are annoying in their emptiness. Marley is merely described, there's little depth on his behaviours, thoughts, attitudes...
Even without being a fan or someone who enjoys reggae, there are things I know about Marley, several moments that should be relevant but are surprisingly ignored on the documentary. Needless to say, I suspect these omissions are made on purpose, so the film can move smoothly, without conflicting facts. It's a very shy, academic approach to a myth.
Despite the second half of its runtime focus on his politic involvement, what we receive is just partial, biased. What about the black panthers, or the unity of black people? The most casual listener can recognize a level of political commitment or commentary in his lyrics, something that is criminally hidden in the documentary (music in particular is vastly neglected in this documentary). What about Robert Mugabe? We see his enthusiasm for the independence of Zimbabwe, but nothing about the instrumentalisation of his music and image by a dictatorship? He was indeed a symbol of reconciliation for a violently divided Jamaica. But her immediate past, before fame and music recognition wasn't really a paradigm of peace, love and understanding. We see some (very interesting) footage about the arrival of Halie Selassie to Jamaica, so we get to know a bit about the rastafari movement/belief, but why there's nothing about Selassie's death when Marley even composed a song, "Jah Live" about it? Won't even start talking about the issue of his "several relationships" and extended offspring (Cedella and Ziggy Marley might be the only exceptions, with a couple of more substantial comments) but is sad the director overlooks the question. Marley was a very complex person, therefore a fascinating character to make a film about. Not just a pleasant hagiography.
In my opinion, "Marley" suffers from wanting too much to be the "complete story" without choosing a focus. Musician? Political activist? Human being? Icon? Macdonald tries to talk about everything, but he is unable to expose more than a few facts, tidbits that conform an excessively long film of 140 minutes without articulating a relevant portrait of a character like the Jamaican legend. Will surely please the fans, but it is, sadly, a failed film.