March 3, 2024

Film Review: How to Blow Up a Pipeline

5 Stars
By Joseph Beyer | May 13, 2023

As another Earth Day has recently come and gone—with our only known inhabitable world in an even worse climate crisis than in the 1970s when the environmental holiday began—this critic found himself drawn to a flinty new independent film with a title as straightforward as the plot: How to Blow Up a Pipeline.

Now available on VOD and based on Andreas Malm’s nonfiction manifesto of the same name, this onscreen adaptation is fast paced, engaging, logical, and intense. In addition to delivering a tick-tock heist film that plays perfectly well on its own, How to Blow Up a Pipeline is a modern dialogue about the extremes of climate change and what will be fair play in defending one’s right to survive.

A thrilling vérité drama unfolds in which climate activists are drawn together by different motivations, creating a Western of sorts appropriately set in west Texas. Using the same power and posse dynamics you’d expect from a Good vs. Bad structure, the film challenges you with the realities and perspectives of a new generation that may not believe in the power of policy change to save them.

If extremity is the heart of invention, then the serious debate buried within the film deserves praise. Through flashbacks and tones, it examines the consequences of a society destined to burn itself out. And even though the realities of global warming have been known for decades, knowledge and slow responses have failed to activate impactful change.

Don’t get me wrong—this sometimes (literally) high falutin’ plot should probably not work as well as it does. One of the most interesting aspects of How to Blow Up a Pipeline is the collaborative filmmaking, done in fittingly guerilla style. Many of the enormously talented cast are also credited as producers, along with an anonymous technical consultant one can only presume was brought on to provide the authenticity of underground warfare. The cinematic world here was created by a long list of artists working together in concept, script performances, and direction.

Director Daniel Goldhaber wrote the screenplay along with Ariela Barer and actress Jordan Sjol, with an ensemble that pairs Sjol with Kristine Froseth, Lukas Gage, Forrest Goodluck, Sasha Lane, Jayme Lawson, Marcus Scribner, Jake Weary, and Irene Bedard. I’m already quite grateful to them all for opening up a real dialogue about climate action that has long been too dormant.

Instead of the characters seeming futuristically Mad Max or Rebel Alliance like, they leap from the screen with a contemporary familiarity, as we all sit in the same cosmic pot, still thinking it’s a hot tub.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline seems ripped from the here and now but was also made with the heart of legacy. It’s both a call to arms and a time capsule in case anyone finds it later. It documents that at least some of the humans fought back against the voluntary extinction. Or should have. Or might even still?

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