Directed by Kevin MacDonald. Opens in a limited engagement at the Main Art Theatre on 4/20.
It's a shame that Bob Marley is mostly immortalized these days as the face on the walls of a million stoners, memorialized as the patron saint of potheads. Of course, Marley was a proponent of marijuana, but his political fervor, his spirituality and the actual meaning and history of that flag so often displayed with his picture have largely been lost to history. Fortunately, the new documentary Marley delves into all those aspects of the reggae star's life in great detail, perhaps offering a brand-new perspective on the man to those who may flock to the film's 4/20 release date.
The film starts in Jamaica, establishing the political and socioeconomic climate Marley was born into through a combination of archival footage, beautiful modern-day shots and copious interviews with people related to Marley (including his childhood teacher). This sets the stage for the extreme thoroughness of the rest of the documentary, which reconstructs the artist's personality through a broad variety of interviews with the musician's friends, family and collaborators. Despite working with very little video of Marley himself, the film still succeeds at creating an honest and well-rounded portrait of the man. It's particularly remarkable to consider Marley's significance in his time as a major political force in Jamaica; the stories and footage of him bringing the heads of Jamaica's two warring political parties onstage to shake hands at a concert are astonishing.
It's taken rather a while to get Marley made, and the film's been in and out of some very capable hands in the process. Martin Scorsese was originally set to direct it in 2008. When he dropped the project due to scheduling issues, Jonathan Demme took over. After Demme too dropped out, Kevin MacDonald took the reins. While not as big a name as the other two, MacDonald still has excellent recent films like Touching the Void and State of Play to his credit, and he brings his A-game here as well. MacDonald turns out a masterful portrait worthy of either of the two masters he replaced. —Patrick Dunn