Directed by: Kevin Macdonald (“State of Play”)

The commercialization of Bob Marley is a curious phenomenon. Decades after his death, it is nearly impossible to walk into a trendy mall or even a department store without seeing shirts and posters bearing his likeness marketed to young people. The images of Marley are often mixed with the familiar colors and symbols of the Rastafari religion, but also combined with images of marijuana leaves and smoke. Although there is no doubt that there are teenagers and young adults that are fans of his music, the images you see on dorm room walls do not fully capture the musician’s legacy. While his face is more ubiquitous than ever, the popular aforementioned imagery shows a misunderstanding of the man, his cultural and religious beliefs, and the scope of impact he had in his home country of Jamaica.

With “Marley,” Academy Award winning director Kevin Macdonald (“One Day In September”) gets back to his documentary roots after spending the past few years primarily directing narratives. The film, which covers the life of Bob Marley from his birth until his death in 1981, makes use of an impressive amount of interviews and visits to important locations from Marley’s life. Macdonald conducts interviews with people from each stage of Marley’s life, including childhood friends, bandmates throughout the years, close friends and many members of his family and even some archived interview footage with Marley himself. These interviews with those close to Marley at different stages in his life give a tremendous amount of detailed insight of his major and often traumatic experiences. The raid of his home in which Marley, his wife and manager were wounded and the details surrounding Marley’s last weeks alive are some of the most intriguing events that audiences get an inside look into.

Fans of Marley’s music will be pleased with the omnipresence of Marley’s music throughout the film, though they might be surprised with how little of the film is about the musical aspects of his career. There is plenty of live footage and detail about how Marley got his start in the music business and when finally broke into major stardom, but the focus of the film is on deeper details into Marley himself. Much time is spent on discussing aspects of the singer’s personal life, including Marley’s upbringing as a poor child where he was often ridiculed for being half-white and his immense love for soccer. Macdonald also attempts to shed light on the Rastafari movement and its importance to Marley. The movie also makes mention of Marley’s trademark dreadlocks and marijuana usage. It is explained in the movie that the Rastafari’s use the drug not for means to get high, as some believe, but as part of their religion, as to be clear minded.

The film feels a bit long-winded with a runtime of nearly 150 minutes, but does pick up steam as it goes along. As the film begins to show the impact that Marley had as a cultural figure, culminating in a powerful scene where Marley plays a free concert in Jamaica and brings two leaders embroiled in civil war on stage to join hands in efforts to find peace, it becomes a fascinating look into how Marley’s influences stretched far beyond music and into social and political causes in ways that you won’t see on a t-shirt or poster.

This film was screened as a part of SXSW 2012.

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