It’s not very often that a foreign-language original leaves you hankering for its already-announced US remake. This, sadly, is the case with Norwegian director Erik Skjoldbjærg’s surprisingly frothy fourth feature Pioneer (2013). Whilst substantially glossier than his most famous directorial offering to date – the pre-Nolan Insomnia (1997) – there’s little of the heart or indeed dramatic tension that made his gloomy detective thriller such a noirish delight. Once again illustrating a preoccupation with hasty cover-ups and morally dubious goings on, Skjoldbjærg’s Pioneer aspires to plummet the depths of his nation’s collective conscience, but instead reveals itself as a rather shallow pseudo-conspiracy thriller.
Back in the early eighties, it wasn’t just the oil-rich Arab states that the western superpowers were greedily eyeing up as potential cash cows. When vast gas and petroleum deposits are discovered in the North Sea, a corporate battle ensues between competing Norwegian and American interests. The prize: one lucrative contract to elusively harvest these natural resources and usher them ashore through an immense pipeline laid on the ocean bed. The poster boys for the Norwegian campaign are diver Petter (Aksel Hennie) and his brother, forced into collaboration with jockeying American diver Mike (Wes Bentley) and his team. However, when a tragic accident on the ocean floor claims the life of one of their fellow frogmen, the shadowy forces of capitalism attempt to silence the dissenting Petter.
What could have been a gripping culture-clash thriller in the vein of Tobias Lindholm’s marvellously tense A Hijacking (2012) descends into standard cat-and-mouse fare almost as soon as Bentley and Stephen Lang’s (of Avatar fame) dastardly yanks gatecrash Norway’s historic deep-sea triumph. Lang’s head honcho Ferris, in particular, is all menacing smirks and veiled threats, which shows little to no progression from his one-dimensional turn as grizzled marine Miles Quaritch in James Cameron’s 3D space yarn. As was the case with fellow Scandinavian Tomas Alfredson’s Cold War drama Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), Skjoldbjærg’s interest presumably lies not with who was involved, but more acutely who wasn’t. It’s a shame, then, that this is diluted by a clumsy script and some even clumsier Greengrass-aping direction. Much like Petter and his Norwegian kin, Pioneer sinks to the bottom under the weight of foreign expectations.