Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme were two of the initial heads circling around the official splashy documentary on milquetoast reggae megastar Bob Marley. Instead, it’s been handled by Kevin “No, Not That One” Macdonald and hits theaters on Weed Day. With rare footage and talking heads crammed into an elephantine 145 minutes, there’s little arguing that the end result isn’t comprehensive. But one can make the case that it lacks personality. It’s impossible to miss Scorsese and Demme in the DNA of their nonfiction films. Macdonald, meanwhile, is workmanlike; without his name in the credits, you’d never ID Touching the Void, The Last King of Scotland and The Eagle as the work of the same person.
Add to that pile Marley, which has all the passion and verve of a well-researched term paper. Granted, there are worse problems to have, and Marley does at least spend as much time on the period covered by Legend, the one BM album that sits next to every high schooler’s bong, as it does on the time that preceded it. The roomy length allows Macdonald & Co. to dwell on his early days as a teenage prodigy, whose first record was recorded at 16, and then as one of Kingston’s regionally successful rock steady frontmen. Though still a Wikipedia doc, Marley at least hits all the notes, delving into his Rastafari beliefs, his politics, his weed intake, his babes.
By the time it gets to the easy-listening era with which most fans are familiar, though, the film simply turns into a game of who can issue the most glowing quotable. Heady subjects, like Marley’s refusal to adequately diagnose his budding cancer or how his music increasingly drew dominantly white crowds, are raised then glossed over. As an old professor once said, an excellent summary will get you an F. Marley deserves better, but the basic sentiment remains.