Believe it or not, climate change is real, and as this planet of ours, the only home we have, suffers from one catastrophic ecological disaster after another, the people most hurt by it are getting pissed. On the big screen that rage is seen in an increasing number of films on eco-terrorism; such as Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves, Zal Batmanglij’s The East, and Paul Schrader’s First Reformed. But no film captures the immediacy of the danger and the urgency of action better than Daniel Goldhaber’s explosive thriller, How to Blow Up a Pipeline.
Based on Andreas Malm’s incendiary manifesto which is less about the “how” and more about the “what”, How to Blow Up a Pipeline gives us an insightful, edge-of-your-seat look at what violent sabotage will look like, and the people called upon to do it. The film doesn’t waste any time introducing us to the ragtag saboteurs, assembled from across the country and from many different walks of life, who have come together on a mission to blow up a West Texas oil pipeline. What the story does is show, in very brief flashbacks, what drove each person to their breaking point. For some, like de facto leader Xochitl (Marvel’s Runaways alum, and co-writer Ariela Barer), it’s a personal tragedy. But she always seems to have had the activist spirit in her, as we see her committing a minor act of sabotage on a gas-guzzling car she’s offended by.
For others, the reasons are more direct. Dwayne (Jake Weary) is a husband and father in Texas whose entire life has been upended due to the pipeline and the eminent domain that is taking everything from him. Michael (Forrest Goodluck) is a Native American misfit who has seen his people’s tribal lands taken from them. He could pull off this mission by himself…or at least he’d probably try. For Theo (Sasha Lane), she’s become ill due to the radioactive environment she was exposed to, while for her lover Alisha (Jayme Lawson) it’s about sticking close so that nothing happens to Theo. There are other combustible elements within the group, like the level-headed but impressionable Shawn (Marcus Scribner), as well as Rowan (Kristine Froseth) and Logan (Lukas Gage), the team’s resident Bonnie & Clyde duo.
From the moment all of these components come together, Goldhaber’s film takes on the kinetic tone and tenor of a major heist movie. The best part of any heist is seeing how the plan comes together, and that’s the bulk of How to Blow Up a Pipeline. We see how the characters’ lives intersected even before they became saboteurs. It connects you with each of their personal goals and makes you want to cheer them on…even as they commit what is a pretty serious crime that could hurt people. Some are more open to the idea of collateral damage than others. Even at this stage of aggressive activism, there are still levels, and they do not always operate as a well-oiled machine. Goldhaber keeps the tension high as the plan looks about 50/50 to actually get pulled off successfully. As the plan barrels ahead like a runaway freight train, the anxiety becomes almost unbearable. A pair of workers wander into the plot and nearly disrupt everything, made worse by them being Texans which means, naturally, that they’re packin’ heat. In another high-pressure sequence, the team’s makeshift bomb threatens to blow them all to Hell during transport.
Shot in grainy, textured 16mm and with a pulsing but minimal score, the film keeps its ambitions modest and is all the better for it. At no point does it feel exaggerated or too Hollywood. The simple techniques and scenarios set up by Goldhaber offer a measure of authenticity, making us feel as if we are watching something we were not meant to see.
What stands out most about How to Blow Up a Pipeline is its confidence in purpose. There’s no waffling over if what they’re doing is right or wrong. What they are doing is the ONLY logical response to a system that has made it impossible to affect needed change the right way. With strong, relatable characters, a suspenseful plot that hits at a hot-button crisis, and the potency in its message of violent sabotage, How to Blow Up a Pipeline is a movie so dangerous those in power will want to keep you away from it. Don’t let them.
How to Blow Up a Pipeline opens on April 7th. Ch