Writer/director Erik Skjoldbjærg (Insomnia, Nokas) was evidently inspired by the 1970s political paranoia thrillers (such as The Conversation, All the President's Men or Three Days of the Condor) when making this film. And why not stylize your film after that beautifully grey, brown and gritty decade when making arguably the most archetypically 1970-ish film in a while, portraying the Norwegian oil discovery and subsequent boom.
Dependable box office star Aksel Hennie takes on the role as Petter, a working-class deep-diver selected to be in a group of pioneers who are to lay a new petroleum pipe at world-record depths from the oil fields off the Norwegian coast and back to the mainland. They are assisted by an American diving company specializing in deep-sea diving, but when the first test dive ends in catastrophe thanks to a freak accident, Petter starts suspecting that things aren't quite as they appear to be, and that someone knows more about the hazards than they are willing to divulge.
This fine premise remains both interesting and valid throughout these 106 minutes, and the film looks good soaked in its 1970s homage. Still, Skjoldbjærg's approach does give Pionér somewhat of an identity crisis. We're never quite sure if the film wants to be a truthful and informative document of these pioneering deep-divers and their role during early days of the Norwegian oil adventure, or if it simply wants to be a mystery thriller at the sacrifice of realism. It seemingly starts off as the former, grows into the latter, and then tries to steer its way back to the former again towards the end. It only succeeds partially at this. There are too many characters and situations that are made ominous just for the sake of it (the Wes Bentley character standing out as the best example), and the film thus seems a bit overplotted at times. And there are a few too many situations with looming shadows and limping sidekicks for it all to resemble a modern, real-life power struggle. I'd rather have some of these replaced with a little more footage of how these divers went about their job, something that would have given the pivotal scene more weight as well. That being said though, Pionér is a fine piece of filmmaking with plenty of cinematic merit, and the busy Aksel Hennie does a fine job in propelling the film forward.