By Lynn Venhaus

As good as Kingsley Ben-Adir is portraying the reggae icon in “Bob Marley: One Love,” the movie’s script fails to hit the right notes, and the result is a disjointed, unsatisfying profile.

Made in partnership with Marley’s widow Rita and two children Ziggy and Cedella, the film celebrates Marley’s life and music as Jamaica’s most famous citizen who never wavered in his message of love and unity, broke boundaries and promoted healing in his country – although the timeline is wonky here.

The trio of screenwriters Zach Baylin, Frank E. Flowers and Terence Winter plus director Reinaldo Marcus Green narrowly focused on the years 1976-1978, when Marley was at the height of his career, and then he learned he had cancer. Now, granted, this isn’t a documentary, it’s “inspired by a true story,” but they have left out some key details of his life.

At the onset, the film explains that warring political factions heightened danger on the island, and an assassination attempt was made on Marley’s life. On Dec. 3, 1976, two days before the free Smile Jamaica Concert he organized, he was wounded, Rita was shot in the head, and manager Don Taylor had serious injuries.

He moved to London to escape, toured Europe, and recorded his acclaimed album “Exodus.” (He also made “Kaya” then, but that’s omitted).

When a toe injury didn’t heal, he was diagnosed with acral lentiginous melanoma, a rare skin cancer, but didn’t stop touring – for a while. (Tragically, he died at age 36 in 1981, after cancer spread to other areas).

Green, who directed “King Richard” about Venus and Serena Williams’ father, presents part of Marley’s journey in flashbacks that focus on imagery without context – his childhood years with a white absentee father, and he leaves with his mother, plus nods to his faith in Rastafari. Those, in repetition, cloud the story instead of illuminate.

The film mentions Haile Selassie I, the emperor of Ethiopia who was considered a god in the religion, but doesn’t explain much about it. Rastafari originated in poor Afro-Jamaican communities in the 1930s as reaction to British Colonial culture and is rooted in Protestant Christianity and mysticism.

Marley’s relationship with his wife, Rita, well-played by Lashana Lynch, began as teenagers, and she was also in his band, The Wailers, as one of the back-up singers of “I Threes” after Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer left. They married in 1966. Both came from the Trenchtown neighborhood in Kingston.

It is not clear that the three children they had together are among the 11 recognized as Marley’s, for they both had extramarital affairs.  Cedella, David “Ziggy,” and Stephen are theirs, and Bob adopted Sharon, Rita’s daughter from a previous relationship. There is no mention that he had six other children with six different women between 1972 and 1978.

How Marley became a music legend, with his unique blend of reggae, rocksteady, and ska, isn’t given much air either – you’ll have to either be familiar with his rise in the music business or read about it later.

Marley returned to Jamaica in April 1978 to much fanfare, and presented the One Love Peace Concert, his attempt to unite opposing political parties. It is only in the archival footage at the film’s end that the political leaders shake hands – populist prime minister Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, head of the opposing Jamaica Labour Party, but it did not end the island’s violence and political tensions.

In fact, what the movie doesn’t say is that the concert’s two organizers were killed in the years following, and 1,000 more people died in 1979-80.

Now the music is a high point, as expected. Many of the hits, including “Jamming,” “Get Up/Stand Up,” “I Shot the Sheriff,” “One Love/People Get Ready,” and “This Is Love” are included in the soundtrack.

One of the most touching scenes is when Marley plays “The Redemption Song” for his family while sitting around a fire, and his wife asks him: “When did you write that?” and he answers: “All my life.”

Ben-Adir, who was impressive as Malcolm X in “One Night in Miami” and amusing as one of the Kens in “Barbie,” immerses himself in a virtuoso performance. Not only did he nail the accent, speech pattern and movements of the man, but he also sang and played guitar.

Kris Bowers composed the film’s score, using Marley’s music as a foundation. Costume designer Anna B. Sheppard captured the culture and the period well, as did production designer Chris Lowe.

Despite the appealing music and the mega-watt turn by Ben-Adir, “Bob Marley: One Love” is too fragmented. It fails to offer something more scintillating overall, and lands merely as an average Hollywood biography.

“Bob Marley: One Love” is a 2024 biopic directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and starring Kingsley Ben-Adir, Lashana Lynch, and James Norton. It is rated PG-13 and the runtime is 1 hour, 47 minutes. It opens on Wednesday, Feb. 14. Lynn’s Grade: C.

By Lynn Venhaus
While it is tempting to learn more about the true story that made national news in 2013, hold off on any online searches until after watching “Joe Bell.” It will be a more satisfying experience the less you know about one father’s redemptive journey.

“Joe Bell” is the true story of a working-class father (Mark Wahlberg) who embarks on a solo walk across the U.S. to crusade about bullying after his gay son Jadin (Reid Miller) is tormented in their small town of LaGrande, Ore.

Wahlberg plays a gruff father who is loving but not necessarily understanding. He attempts to be more compassionate, revealing his pain and regrets.

And his ‘a-ha moment’ rings true. When he speaks about tolerance and accountability, his heart ultimately emerges. While a deeply flawed man, Bell’s mission is to help other parents by sharing his story, and possibly make things easier for kids living in places that might not be so accepting. He tells people “Understanding begins at home.”

Bell reflects on what he’s gone through and how he arrived at this point as he walks the highways and byways.

“Everybody’s against bullying, aren’t they?” he asks his wife.

In a sit-up-and-take note breakthrough performance, newcomer Reid Miller delivers a heart-wrenching portrait as Jadin Bell, a gay teen trying to live his life out loud without the harassment about “being different.”

A persecuted outsider who feels alone, his truths are universal, which is why the movie has such an emotional wallop. Miller will move you to tears — unless you have a heart of stone.

The thoughtful script, by Oscar winners Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry, who adapted “Brokeback Mountain,” is sensitive about the family dynamics and the closed-minded attitudes of a small town. It’s McMurtry’s last film, as he died earlier this year. The celebrated author wrote “The Last Picture Show,” “Terms of Endearment” and “Lonesome Dove.”

The screenwriters employ copious use of flashbacks to set up what vicious actions Jadin endured by cruel classmates, how his scruffy dad got to this juncture in his life, and what being an activist is teaching him.

They propel the movie forward without the usual sentimental beats, relying on the moving story to present itself.

Connie Britton is Joe’s wife Lola, who has her own issues, and is frustrated by Joe’s quick temper and rush to judgment. Their complicated relationship unfolds while he is on his cross-country trek, staying in cheap motels and sleeping in a tent along the way.

Maxwell Jenkins plays Jadin’s younger brother, Joseph, who is having a tough time as well.

The movie, originally called “Good Joe Bell” when it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2020, is just simply called “Joe Bell” now, no need to embellish. Its blunt message is the same.

Reinaldo Marcus Green directs with empathy. His past work includes “Monsters and Men” in 2018 and he will be coming out later this year with “King Richard,” starring Will Smith as the father of Venus and Serena Williams.

It is also an economical film, told in 90 minutes. Cinematographer Jacques Jouffret beautifully captures the panoramic vistas of America along Joe’s sojourn.

In a small but pivotal role, Gary Sinise plays a kindly sheriff who is also the father of a gay son. They bond over their initial resistance, and how they grew because of their experience.

The music is particularly mournful, composed by Brazilian Antonio Pinto. Brandi Carlile’s “The Joke” aptly plays over the closing credits.

While there have been great strides in the past decade about LGBQT rights, humans still have a way to go, filmmakers point out. Jadin’s essay on people hating you for reasons you can’t change is a poignant plea for awareness.

Ignorance and immaturity will continue to be roadblocks but listening and learning will go a long way – that’s the message of “Joe Bell,” which comes across in a simple and straight-forward manner.

The gut punch is tailor-made for helping to create a kinder, gentler world. This is an important, if imperfect film, that sheds light on hard-earned truths.

“Joe Bell” is a 2020 true-life drama starring Mark Wahlberg, Reid Miller, Connie Britton and Gary Sinise. Rated R for language including offensive slurs, some disturbing material, and teen partying and runtime is 1 hour, 30 minutes. It is available in theaters on July 23.
Lynn’s Grade: B+