At two hours and 24 minutes, Kevin Macdonald’s cradle-to-premature-grave biography of reggae’s most legendary exponent is lengthy by conventional documentary standards. But Marley is so rich—by turns joyous, revelatory, and heart-wrenching—that a further two hours would have been welcome. Which isn’t to suggest that Macdonald’s epic account feels somehow incomplete. Though the man himself rarely spoke to the media, Marley assembles an enormously compelling ensemble of interview subjects, whose collective recollections address every conceivable facet of the musician’s remarkable life and career.
Through insights from people like Bob’s first teacher in the tin-hut hamlet of St. Ann’s, founding Wailer “Bunny” Livingston, and 1976 Miss World-winner Cindy Breakspeare (one of the seven separate women who bore Bob’s 11 children), we learn of the bi-racial outsider status that led Marley to embrace Rastafarianism, the serendipitous origins of reggae’s signature rhythm, and of the utopian convictions that informed his tireless drive to create and perform.
The doc is sanctioned by the Marley estate, and also features contributions from Bob’s wife and collaborator, Rita, as well as from his eldest children, Cedella and Ziggy. These, interestingly, are the film’s most critical, revealing Bob to have been a stern, competitive father, reluctant to acknowledge the true impact of his infidelities.
Rounding out the portrait is a generous trove of archival footage from Bob’s globetrotting heyday. His posthumous fame has far outstripped the celebrity he enjoyed before succumbing to cancer at the young age of 36. But, in Marley, Macdonald provides contemporary audiences with a vivid evocation of his ineffable, iconic aura.