Dir: Erik Skjoldbjaerg. Norway-Germany-Sweden-France-Finland. 2013. 106mins

One man’s determination to uncover the truth behind his brother’s death propels a solid, old school conspiracy thriller in Pioneer (Pioner). The setting of the burgeoning North Sea oil industry of the early 1980s adds some fresh interest to the familiar narrative tropes of shady politicians, untrustworthy colleagues and a seemingly indestructible hero who survives numerous attempts to secure his silence.

Hennie makes for a convincingly resolute hero and Insomnia director Erik Skjoldbjaerg generates some tension as the conspiracy slowly unravels.

It is often hard to credit that this is based on true events and some of the clunky dialogue does nothing to improve matters. The significance of the events to the economic development of Norway, an ongoing court case for compensation, and the presence of star Aksel Hennie (Headhunters, Max Manus etc) should make this a considerably attraction on home territory but it lacks the outrageous entertainment value of Headhunters or the sweaty conviction of A Hijacking to match their impact abroad.

The exploitation of oil and gas reserves in the North Sea depended on whether divers had the physical ability to descend to the depths of 500 meters required to install a pipeline. Petter (Hennie) is part of an American-Norwegian team exploring the limits of human endurance in deep sea diving. He appears to be responsible for a tragic accident that results in the death of his brother Knut (Andre Eriksen).

Unable to accept what has happened, he begins to question the official version of events and his suspicions are only encouraged after one colleague disappears on extended sick leave and another is found dead from a suspected morphine overdose. 

Risking his life to find the truth places Petter in the firing line of various vested interests, from American businessman Ferris (Stephen Lang) to Norwegian government representative Jeder (Erik Stubo). Everyone seems determined to claim their share of a lucrative development. We are soon in a familiar movie world where nobody can be trusted and someone is always emerging from the shadows to batter Petter over the head or run him off the road.

Hennie makes for a convincingly resolute hero and Insomnia director Erik Skjoldbjaerg generates some tension as the conspiracy slowly unravels. Cinematographer Jallo Kekarainen Faber gives the film the grimy, washed out look of something that might have been made in the 1970s He conveys the murky North Sea waters as an otherworldly kingdom and frames some arresting images, including a vast North Sea platform as it majestically sails past the windows of a home. 

The drawbacks with Pioneer largely lie in an inelegant screenplay that falls back on clunky conspiracy thriller clichés at every turn rather than making the most of the real events. Wes Bentley as hotheaded American diver Mike works hard to appear more than a red herring, glowering around the edge of the film warning ” We all get what’s coming to us.” 

Production company: Friland Produksjon

Producer: Christian Fredrik Martin

Sales contact: TrustNordisk   www.trustnordisk.com

Screenplay: Hans Gunnarsson, Cathinka Nicolaysen, Kathrine Valen Zeiner, Erik Skjoldbjaerg, Nikolaj Frobenius

Cinematography: Jallo Kekarainen Faber

Editors: Frida Michaelsen, Jonas Aaro

Production designer: Karl Juliusson

Music: AIR

Main cast: Aksel Hennie, Wes Bentley, Stephen Lang, Stephanie Sigman, Andre Eriksen