(director: Kevin Macdonald; cinematographers: Alwin H. Kuchler/Mike Eley/Wally Pfister; editor: Dan Glendenning; cast: Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley,Jimmy Cliff, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Cindy Breakspeare; Runtime: 144; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Steve Bing/Charles Steel; Magnolia Pictures; 2012)

So far, the definitive biopic documentary on the elusive Bob Marley.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

So far, the definitive biopic documentary on the elusive Bob Marley. It was approved as the official version by the Marley estate. Scottish director Kevin Macdonald (“State of Play”/”The Last King of Scotland”/”One Day in September“)superbly helms the linear and traditional doc as a lively, passionate and informative biopic on the idealistic mixed-race ganja smoking and dreadlock wearing Jamaican reggae legend Bob Marley, who died in 1981, of melanoma, at the age of 36. He was the film’s third director, after Martin Scorsese dropped out over a conflict in schedules and Jonathan Demme left because of artistic differences with producer Steve Bing.

The doc captures Marley’s unifying spiritual message that tells us all races were equal and that we should all learn to live together in peace and love. The mysterious energized diminutive singer/activist still remains elusive after the intensive doc, but less so as he’s explained through his music and through archival interviews with the singer himself; his mother; his wife, Rita; his longtime girlfriend Cindy Breakspeare; his eldest son, Ziggy; colorful band member Bunny Wailer; slick Brit Island Records founder Chris Blackwell and just about every musician connected with the popular singer. As a result we do get to know him a bit more than before, though nothing really intimate materializes and we never get to see his private personality.

We follow Marley living with his black mum, who was 16 when she gave birth to Bob in 1945. They lived in a run-down shack, in poverty, in the rural country town of St. Ann, where he’s bullied and rejected by locals for his mixed-blood. Marley never knew his white dad, Captain Norval Marley, in the British, who avoided contact with his mums and died in 1957. When 12, Marley moved with mom to Kingston’s rough Trench Town, where he developed life long friendships and gained an identity through his music. The kid always loved football and music, and in Kingston sees music as his salvation to get out of the ghetto. In 1970, trying to jump start his musical career, the impoverished Marley asked his white cousins for a loan to buy a car so he can travel to gigs, but was rebuffed. It resulted in a hit song, “Cornerstone,” that rallied others with the message it was alright to be rejected and that having an absentee father is not the end of life.

Through the music we follow how reggae developed from a change in rhythm from the Jamaican ska dance music and how Marley matured to became the king of reggae. We learn a little about the singer’s limited political forays in internal Jamaican politics to bring harmony to Jamaica and what made him join the radical Rastafarian movement and how motivated for success was the singer and how eager he was for his music to become an avenue for transformation to those who needed inspiration to change. What bothered the singer was that he drew a primarily white audience and it wasn’t until 1979, at a Madison Square Garden concert in the Big Apple, that he started reaching a black audience. The film also points out the gifted singer wasn’t exactly a saint, as he was self-absorbed, a womanizer with many mistresses and was rough on his eleven children he sired with seven different women.

Marley is depicted, in this well-executed doc, as a talented singer who enriched the musical world; was a flawed person but who was nevertheless a deeply convicted humanist; was someone who had the charisma to motivate others through his songs to seek freedom such as the hit “Stand Up For Your Rights,” and that he left it all on the stage in his memorable performances–using his musical fame to make a difference in the world.