How to Blow Up a Pipeline is an essential and timely call to action that shakes up the heist genre with a compelling and electrifying focus on radical environmental activism. In director Daniel Goldhaber’s fictional adaptation of Andreas Malm’s manifesto, those who’ve been impacted the most by climate-damaging events take matters into their own hands.
How to Blow Up a Pipeline is told as a non-linear story in which writer-director Daniel Goldhaber and his co-writers, Ariela Barer and Jordan Sjol, show each of eight young environmental activists one by one, introducing themselves and how they got to a crucial turning point with their environmentalism. This non-chronological structure is easy to follow due to the sharp writing and storytelling decisions; the momentum of the film never loses its weight as we know the eventual outcome but wait for the final moment to see exactly how it transpires. The who, how, and why are so cleverly provided throughout the film to give us connection to each character, but also to remind us why this cause is so important no matter who you are or where you are in your life.
With the opening of How to Blow Up a Pipeline, we’re introduced to a group who have collectively decided to take action against the major oil companies of the world by blowing up a Texas oil pipeline. The presumed leader of the group, Xochitl (Ariela Barer), was a college student who dreamed of making a significant change in the climate war but was fed up with how dire the situation felt, which is very true to how some younger activists are feeling in real life. Michael (Forrest Goodluck) has grown tired of being peaceful and somewhat passive, so he starts learning how to make explosives with products you can get at the local store (with an employee discount). Another member of the group, Dwayne (Jake Weary), is joining in due to the oil companies claiming land that had been in his family for more than a century under an eminent domain clause leading him to feel helpless. Theo (Sasha Lane), Xochitl’s best friend, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, the result of growing up in a refinery town. Others have lost family members, seen terrible changes to their community, or have suffered the consequences of those chemical plants themselves.
The tension in the film is raw and tangible, elevated due to the film being shot on a grainy 16 mm and the hypnotic score from composer Gavin Brivik. The film, intentionally at times, feels as if its secret footage the audience is watching. The anxiety from the group working with volatile materials and the risk of getting caught truly makes the film fly by. The protagonists and their actions in How to Blow Up a Pipeline are neither instinctively good nor inherently bad. They, and most audiences, most certainly see themselves as the heroes of this story, fighting back against the big oil companies, and the government that not only sits on their hands causing damage to the world, but also causing it themselves. The group is creating a weapon to destroy federal property and they understand they’ll be seen as terrorists but know what they’re doing will overall serve a bigger and better purpose.
How to Blow Up a Pipeline uses tremendous film editing (by Daniel Garber) that weaves together the backstories of each character and jumps back and forth in chronology throughout the film, keeping the momentum up and the experience exhilarating. Goldhaber’s film brings powerful questions to the forefront of the conversation. While it’s a fictional, narrative film, the issues are real, and the actions of the main characters are understandable and not fantasy. The film doesn’t feel the need to preach to the audience the dire call to action; this inspiring group just believes that the time to act is now and they (and the filmmakers) don’t care if you agree. How to Blow Up a Pipeline is an essential and timely call to action that shakes up the heist genre with a compelling and electrifying focus on radical environmental activism. Goldhaber’s fictional adaptation of Andreas Malm’s manifesto those who’ve been impacted the most by climate-damaging events take matters into their own hands.
Should be Considered: Best Film Editing
Release Date: April 7, 2023
Where to Watch: In Select Theaters
Lives in LA with her husband, daughter and dog. Misses Arclight, loves iced vanilla coffees.
Favorite Director: Darren Aronofsky
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