The fact Martin Scorsese was once pegged to direct this Bob Marley doc raises the stakes for his successor.
So it’s no minor matter to say Kevin Macdonald comes up trumps. The Touching The Void director traces a linear path from the reggae giant’s Jamaican youth to his death to deliver a deep, absorbing portrait of a complex man.
Thought he was just marijuana’s poster boy? Think again. Early scenes lack archive footage to draw on, yet Marley benefits from a hefty haul of talking heads.
Original Wailer Neville ‘Bunny’ Livingston and other recording artists offer priceless first-hand stories; later, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, record-label honchos, family, mistresses and a nurse detail struggles, success, faith and failings.
Stirring up the personal and political, Macdonald fleshes out Marley on all fronts. Poverty, an absent father and feelings of “rejection” over being mixed race provide context for his young life.
We hear how he inspired many as a Rastafarian prophet, yet his peace’n’love image is complicated by accounts of his “competitive” streak and homefront shortcomings, the latter expressed by cheated-on wife Rita and painfully neglected daughter Cedella.
The result is lengthy-ish but the details grip and the music is primed to liven things up. It’s made clear why Marley is revered even if Macdonald never stoops to hagiography.
And as his convictions and contradictions resonate clearly, so does the tragedy of his death from cancer at 36 in 1981, where Macdonald uses ‘Redemption Song’, personal testimonies and rare pictures to devastating effect. It’s hard to imagine Marty doing better.