Kevin Macdonald’s extensive biography of reggae legend Bob Marley deftly weaves together conflicting interviews and archival footage, offering a complex look at an enigmatic music icon. But with a two-and-a-half hour runtime, the director’s thoroughness may impede his documentary’s ability to cut through the smoke. Following a mostly temporal path, Marley traces the reggae superstar’s life from impoverished childhood to untimely death. Macdonald is careful to avoid the soundtrack-driven pitfalls of Behind the Music, leaving no stone unturned as he delves into Marley’s thorny religious and philosophical convictions and lingeres on daughter Cedella’s bitter reflections on her father’s philandering ways.
The movie’s greatest flourish, however, is when Macdonald plays “Corner Stone,” a song written about Marley’s absent father, to Bob’s white half-sister Constance. Her tears are the best signal that the doc is determined to cross unexplored territory. The downside to that approach is that Marley glosses over some of the more basic details of the legend’s music career. Marley’s departure from the Wailers gets fairly little attention, and given how little time Macdonald spends discussing Marley’s storied drug use, the movie’s 4/20 release date is frustratingly misleading. Still, that’s a reasonable price to pay for a new addition to the Marley mystique.