Pioneer movie review: there will be oil

Pioneer yellow light

What is intended to be a suspenseful period drama of paranoia and conspiracy is far too slow-moving and meandering to truly engage.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

There’s some context missing from this Norwegian thriller, set in the early 1980s, that outsiders who aren’t economists with a global outlook may not be aware of. It’s this: Norway’s modern welfare state, perhaps the most generous in the world, exists only because of the discovery of large reserves of offshore oil in the late 60s. So there’s an unspoken undercurrent to the corporate shenanigans on display here: “This is what it took to ensure Norway’s economic security and the comfort of its citizens.” (That the oil boom is now ending, threatening economic upheaval, is another issue.) This may be obvious to homegrown audiences, but I wonder if even they got many thrills out of what is intended to be a suspenseful drama of paranoia and conspiracy but is far too slow-moving and meandering to truly engage. Director Erik Skjoldbjærg makes feints toward something more like science fiction early on, as veteran diver Petter (Aksel Hennie: Hercules) works with American diver Mike (Wes Bentley: Interstellar), among others, in experiments conducted jointly by the Norwegian government and an American company to send roughnecks to work on the seabed to lay pipeline. This had never been done before and involved experimenting with mixes of breathable air and other gases to counter decompression sickness and other potential problems the human body faces under the conditions workers would face. When an accident occurs during the testing, Petter starts making some unsettling discoveries about what’s Really Going On, and the film drifts toward the realm of Silkwood or The Conversation, yet without ever catching similar dramatic fire. This is an elegant film but a rather stolid one, an odd cinematic choice given the subject matter, which should be more incendiary than it is. Perhaps the English-language remake, in the works from producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov, will manage it.

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