By Rich Cline
A palpable sense of menace infuses this slow-burning Norwegian thriller, which is based on shocking, unsettling real-life events. Anchored by a terrific central performance from Aksel Hennie (Headhunters), the film sometimes strains to force the true story into a standard conspiracy movie structure. But it still has a bracing sense of urgency.
Hennie stars as Petter, Norway's top deep-sea diver, who in the early 1980s is recruited by the state-owned oil company to work with the Americans to lay a pipeline on the ocean floor connecting the mainland with off-shore drilling platforms. But this is uncharted territory for divers who will be working up to 400 metres below the surface. And when a test dive takes a fatal turn, Petter isn't convinced it was an accident. He certainly doesn't trust American diver Mike (Wes Bentley), but then everyone else is just as shifty.
Intriguingly, filmmaker Skjoldbjaerg shoots this in a gritty 1980s style tinged with the increasingly frazzled Petter's tenuous grip on reality. Diving this deep does something to the brain, so perhaps this is all in his mind. But Hennie is so likeable that we struggle with him to work out the truth, which means travelling through a Hitchcockian thriller in which everyone seems to be trying to kill him. This is fiercely clever filmmaking that's only let down because it's too clever for its own good.
The main problem is that Skjoldbjaerg never provides any back-story, so the characters all remain elusive. Trying to keep track of how these people are connected and which ones might be trustworthy is no easy task, especially since the performances are so textured and complex. This may add to the film's general sense of unpredictability, but it's also distracting.
Fortunately, Petter's personal story is so involving that it carries us through to the alarming climax in which everything becomes all too clear. Indeed, history repeats itself as nations always become hugely wealthy by exploiting people and resources without regard for ethics or consequences. It's hardly surprising that George Clooney is already working on an American remake.
Watch 'Pioneer' Trailer
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 5th December 2014
Distributed by: Magnolia Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 47%
Fresh: 16 Rotten: 18
Cast & Crew
Director: Erik Skjoldbjaerg
Producer: Erik Skjoldbjaerg, Hans Gunnarsson, Cathinka Nicolaysen, Nikolaj Frobenius, Kathrine Valen Zeiner
Screenwriter: Christian Fredrik Martin
Starring: Will Oldham as Father, Myles Brooks as Boy