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.
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.