This must be what Radiohead meant when they sang The Bends.
Brothers Petter (Aksel Hennie, Hercules) and Knut (André Eriksen) are hired to dive to the ocean floor off the Norwegian coast, in order to lay pipe to bring Norway’s vast oil resources inland. The problem is, no one has ever gone that deep before; and after a tragedy occurs during a test dive, a cover up ensues. Petter tries his best to get to the bottom of things, but his dogged pursuit could lead to his untimely demise.
Pioneer is a thriller about diving —yes diving! Intrigue, danger, corruption, and a cover-up is the recipe du jour, and although it is a slow burn at times, this is a film that is definitely worth your while.
Set in the early ‘80s, when bell bottoms were still king, and the sign of manliness was a big ass Sam Elliot mustache. Directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg (Insomnia), who uses a color palette and a type of film grain that replicates the look of that time period wonderfully. It exudes the feel of the days when Magnum P.I. was sportin’ his own impressive ‘stache. Location is also key to the authenticity of Pioneer. The harbor used in the film could not be found in Norway, with all of its new architecture, but location scouts managed to find an old industrial harbor in Sweden that hadn’t been used since 1982; and it definitely looks like it is trapped in an ‘80s time warp. The picturesque under water scenes were amazing. Shot off the Icelandic coast because water so clear and blue could not be found anywhere else.
I mention all of this background information, because it is a key reason why this film is so fantastic. Once that stage is set, it’s easy to get lost in the story of the everyman hero Petter, who loves to dive; loves it so much in fact, that when things with the American/Norway project goes hinky, he has to find out the truth even if it costs him his life.
Askel Hennie is amazing, even with all of the exterior reality provided by the filmmakers, if his portrayal of Petter is subpar, none of that matters. This Norwegian actor is not your typical leading man; with his ‘70’s receding hairline, wiry, yet muscular build, and of course that Sam Elliot mustache —he looks more like the foil then the hero. Hennie does have a certain amount of sex appeal and confidence that makes what his character does very plausible. Hennie makes you believe that Petter has the cajones to risk life and limb to get to the bottom of things (no pun intended). He’s not this meek man, suddenly transformed into an action hero, oh no! He is clumsy, careless, even reckless during his quest; but he is fearless, willing to do whatever it takes to exose those responsible for the accident. Hennie is a Nordic force of nature.
Other aspects that make Pioneer so effective is the supporting cast that surrounds Hennie. There are a host of talented Norwegian actors, such as André Eriksen as Petter’s brother Knut. The American actors appearing in Pioneer include, bad ass Stephen Lang (Avatar, who has the manliest feathered hair I’ve ever seen, and a white knit sweater that lesser men could never pull off; and yeah his performance is rock solid too. Wes Bentley (The Hunger Games), is great as the arrogant mountain man diver, replete with a full beard and American bravado to boot. Finally Jonathan LaPaglia (Deconstructing Harry) rounds out the cast as Ronald, the doctor hired to make sure the divers are healthy enough to do their jobs. His perfectly coiffed hair would’ve been the envy of any man, or woman of the time. These performances are as imperative to the film’s success as Hennie’s.
What I found to be the most unique aspect of Pioneer is the fact that it’s a foreign film —and then it’s not. What, you say? Well it takes place in Norway, yes, but the Norwegians are working alongside Americans, because the US has the technology that makes it possible to even attempt such a dangerous dive. When Petter is talking amongst his countrymen, Norwegian is the language of choice, but he can just as easily turn on his English (which is very good), when speaking to his American co-workers. What’s amazing is how easy it was for me, as a viewer to make the switch along with him. Seamlessly reading the subtitles, and just as quickly adjusting to the dialogue when English is spoken. This isn’t due to some great intellect on my part, but the talents of the actors and filmmakers, who make the transitions so smooth.
Pioneer (Blu-ray) is a nice 2.35:1 (1080p) presentation, and let me tell you it is worth seeing just to witness the beautiful underwater scenes, filmed in the crisp clear waters off the coast of Iceland. The DTS 5.1 MA audio, is fabo, I can easily hear the beauty of the Norwegian language, as wellas the clarity of the dialogue when English is spoken. Extras include four wonderful behind the scenes featurettes, that give us an insight into how Pioneer was made, the camaraderie of the entire cast (Norwegians and Americans), and the movie secrets that make this such a wonderful film. Best part of the special features is finding out that a car accident involving Petter, was in fact a very real accident. Hennie wasn’t hurt, and like a boss he just kept acting after his Jeep rolled over and landed on all four tires (stud). Because he stayed in character, Skjoldbjærg keeps the scene in the film. Now how can you not want to see Pioneer after hearing that?
Pioneer is a distinctively unique film that is both cerebral and action packed. It is filled with wonderful performances, fine directing and a story that plays itself out in a beautifully deliberative manner.
For the hommies in my adopted homeland of Norway, I find this film ikke skyldig (Not Guilty).
Pioneer (Blu-ray) 2014, Universal, 111 minutes, R (2015)
VIDEO: 2.35:1, 1080p AUDIO: DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English), DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Norwegian)
SUBTITLES: English SDH, English, Spanish EXTRAS: Featurettes ACCOMPLICES: IMDB