In the 1970s a massive reserve of gas and oil was discovered in the North Sea off the coast of Norway. Norwegian officials soon realised that if they could pipe this supply to the mainland, it would make Norway one of the richest countries on earth. The challenge was that this would entail diving deeper than they had ever dived before and to achieve this, they had to cooperate with American commercial offshore companies who had the necessary expertise and knowledge to get the job done.
This was pioneer work featuring largely experimental procedures and the Norwegian government effectively treated the divers as guinea pigs in their attempts to ready them to descend to the bottom of the North Sea.
With much of the action taking place in compression chambers and underwater, Pioneer is a claustrophobic film that takes place in the early days of the Norwegian oil boom. The film begins with commercial offshore diver Petter (Aksel Hennie) and his brother Knut preparing to dive to depths of over 500 metres.
When a tragic accident takes place during the test dive, Petter is desperate to understand the cause behind it. Yet the more he investigates, the more Petter’s life is in danger as he discovers a massive cover-up.
Directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg (Insomnia) with a screenplay by Nicolaj Frobenius, Pioneer is a dark conspiracy thriller that will keep the audience guessing right until the end. Aksel Hennie is fantastic in his role as Petter and is supported by a Norwegian and American cast including Wes Bentley (American Beauty), Jonathan LaPaglia and Ane Dahl Torp.
Throughout the film, Skjoldbjærg applies his artistic brush stroke and uses the lighting, set design and underwater scenes to convey a sense of impending danger, unease and conspiracy. French electronic duo Air provide the score and the eerie, minimalist music adds to the mood and atmosphere of the film. Both the lighting and music play a pivotal role in the final scene of the film, portraying the ending without the need for dialogue.
Pioneer reminded me on so many levels of the 2011 film Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, it has a similar mood and pace. I loved the authentic props and fashions in the film and Ane Dahl Torp especially rocked those round, oversized spectacles.
Pioneer is a bleak film and will appeal to more discerning viewers. It is a reminder of why Scandinavian filmmakers are proving so popular among English speaking audiences at the moment and certainly makes me want to see more of Erik Erik Skjoldbjærg’s work in future.
I give Pioneer four out of five stars.