THE PAINTER AND THE THIEF Review – An Interesting Art Doc That Steals Too Much of Your Time

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The Painter and the Thief Review  — Film Critic Staci Layne Wilson says this award-winning documentary is “a brave and unflinching interpretation of an unusual, true tale.”

The Painter and the Thief ReviewFive years ago in Oslo, two huge paintings by a relatively unknown artist, Barbora Kysilkova, were stolen from a prominent gallery. They were valued at a mere $20,000 (chump-change in the art world) but meant so much more to their creator. Fortunately, surveillance video caught the culprits and they were swiftly brought to justice—but the paintings were never recovered.

In an unlikely turn of events, Kysilkova invites one of the thieves, tatted-up junkie Karl-Bertil Nordland, to sit for a portrait. Hence, the two form an improbable relationship and a bond that will forever link their lonely souls.

There are some truly touching moments in The Painter and the Thief. If you’re not brought to tears by watching Nordland’s reaction to seeing Kysilkova’s painted portrait of him for the first time, then you’re made of sterner stuff than I. Both people are complex, layered, and not what they might appear. Norland may be a recovering drug addict and a career criminal, and cruel for keeping the paintings’ locations secret from his newfound friend, but he’s also deeply attuned to aesthetics (he stole the paintings, he said, not for their monetary value, but their beauty) and the human psyche (“She sees me very well,” he says of curious, questioning Kysilkova, “but she forgets that I see her, too.”). Kysilkova seems tough and unafraid, but she is really quite fragile.

The Painter and the Thief’s core story is pretty amazing and hopefully someday a narrative film will be made about it. But as a too-long documentary, it’s a hard watch. Filmmaker Benjamin Ree lingers forever and a day on the minutia of the settings, dragging out B-roll to the point of mind-numbing mediocrity. Plus, there are a few unanswered questions left dangling, such as: who was the other thief? That seems kind of important to me as a viewer. But, the strangely codependent friendship is the focus of this deliberate account, not the actual crime that led to it. While it can be a slog to get to it, the surprise ending makes the journey worthwhile.

The Painter and the Thief is the kind of movie one must be in the mood for (don’t watch it when you’re sleepy), but overall, it’s a brave and unflinching interpretation of an unusual, true tale.

1 Hour 45 Minutes
Rated NR

Does this The Painter and Theif movie review paint an intriguing portrait? It’s set for a May 22, 2020 streaming release. Check Rotten Tomatoes for updates.

The Painter and the Thief Review  — Film Critic Staci Layne Wilson says this award-winning documentary is “a brave and unflinching interpretation of an unusual, true tale.”

If you need more than a movie to keep you healthy and happy during quarantine, check out the At Home In Hollywood Stay At Home Survival Guide and the Stay at Home Survival Guide for Pets.

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Staci Layne Wilson

Staci Layne Wilson

Staci Layne Wilson is an accomplished writer / director / producer / film critic and the author the bestseller So L.A. - A Hollywood Memoir. Find her on

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