Marley (Magnolia Pictures, PG-13)

marley squareTracing Marley’s life and career chronologically, Macdonald has put together a nice package of interviews and archival materials coupled with some beautifully shot contemporary footage.

You might wonder why it took so long for someone to make a proper documentary about Bob Marley: after all, 31 years after his death, his recordings are still heard regularly and his instantly recognizable image is sported on t-shirts by people far too young to have heard him live. A Marley documentary from the Weinstein Company has been in the works since at least 2008, but after Martin Scorsese and Johnathan Demme both bailed on the project, it fell to Kevin Macdonald to complete it. The good news is that the final product is more than wortmarley 12 fullh the wait: It not only does justice to the legendary musician, and also marks a return to form for Macdonald, who got a bit off track after The Last King of Scotland.

There’s nothing innovative about Marley, but it’s a fine example of traditional documentary done right. Tracing Marley’s life and career chronologically, Macdonald has put together a nice package of interviews and archival materials coupled with some beautifully shot contemporary footage. I’m not sure who shot what, but a regular murderer’s row of cinematographers are credited on IMDB: Wally Pfister (The Dark Knight, Inception), Alwin Kuchler (Hanna, Morvern Callar), and Mike Eley (Grey Gardens, Touching the Void). The music is great, of course, but the film takes care to provide a social and historical context for Marley’s life, as well.

Marley is authorized by the Marley family, which may explain both how Macdonald got such extraordinary access to family members and archival materials. Interviews with Marley’s children and sexual partners make it clear that he was no angel, but the film is far more interested in his importance as not only a musician, but also an ambassador and popularizer of Jamaican culture.

Bob Marley and the Wailers got together in 1963, just one year after Jamaica became an independent country. The band soon became popular in their native land, but didn’t get their big break until 1973, when they released their first album under the auspices of Chris Blackwell’s Island Records label. One year later, they released the album Burnin’, including the tracks “I Shot the Sheriff” and “Get Up, Stand Up,” and the rest, as they say, is history.

Macdonald goes above and beyond the call of duty, from an opening sequence shot in an African port where slaves were once shipped to America (rather dramatically titled “the door of no return”), to the juxtaposition of two performances of “Teenager in Love”—one by Dion, one by Marley. If you’re a Bob Marley fan, you’ll want to see this film; if you’re not already, you probably will be by the closing credits. | Sarah Boslaugh

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