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  • Nate Adams

'How to Blow Up a Pipeline' review: Explosive thriller harbors important climate change message

Courtesy of NEON


Hard to remember a movie that’s had its fingers on the pulse of modern day issues quite like “How to Blow Up a Pipeline,” a thrilling, eco-friendly drama about the lengths some might be willing to go in order to enact change government regulators have long ignored. Based on a controversial manifesto by Andreas Malm, which implicitly stated the time for peaceful protests on the subject of global warming/climate change is long gone, writer-director Daniel Goldhaber vigorously outlines the steps necessary to blow up a massive pipeline. It’s an intense and dramatized call-to-arms likely to inspire ire and frustration from those in the oil sector who could see the movie as a blueprint for future attacks, but with the recent passing of a similarly controversial Willow oil bill by the Biden administration, “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” couldn’t release at a more opportune moment.  

The movie drops us in the middle of the plot with climate activists from all over the country plotting to destroy a West Texas oil pipeline, something that will carry long-term and irreversible damage to the global economy and act as permission for activists to rise up and make their voices heard. The movie follows Xochitl (Ariela Barer - who also co-wrote the screenplay), introduced in a opening scene sabotaging a parked car while leaving a letter on their windshield, who is the unofficial leader of the cause, tasked with divvying up various assignments (making bombs, getaway driver, albi’s etc) to successfully pull off the titular mission. 

From there, the movie gradually unspools the characters via flashbacks, helping reshape and provide context into how everyone got there in the first place. On the roster is one of Xochitl’s best friends, Theo (Sasha Lane), who is dying of an illness caused by living near radioactive contaminants as a child; Texas native Dwayne (Jake Weary), a God fearing, gun loving father-figure caught in an expensive legal battle with the government who have unilateral authority to run a pipeline through his property; Michael (Forrest Goodluck) is the amateur explosives expert who’s probably seen too much “MacGyver” while young lovers Logan and Rowan (Lukas Gage and Kristine Froseth) are the lookouts.

The performances add an extra layer to Barer’s, Goldhaber, and Jordan Sjol’s screenplay, as does the decision to shoot the movie guerilla style on 16mm with an amped, electrifying score by Gavin Brivik raging in the background. With the urgency of climate change already so prevalent in the minds of individuals, the formula and efficiency with which Goldhaber handles the incredible tense showdowns and twisty revelations only elevates “How to Build a Pipeline” beyond the point of no return. In two anxiety-riddled sequences, we watch the crew try to safely maneuver two gigantic, makeshift, explosives into place. 

In addition, the movie brings forth honest and open discussions about the aftermath of executing such a disruptive, and some-may-say, terrorist act. But what’s right and wrong doesn’t matter so much in “How to Build a Pipeline,” as it's these characters feeling cornered and without options. Obviously, the filmmakers are using this narrative thread as an extreme wake-up call (and not encouraging anyone to, you know, actually blow up a pipeline) that if we keep walking down the road we’re on, with corrupt government entities and greedy corporate stakeholders running the show and making these hasty decisions, there won’t a future worth living for. It’s a message every sensible human being should rally behind, and the movie does a near flawless job at getting that point across. 

Grade: A- 

HOW TO BLOW UP A PIPELINE opens in theaters Friday, April 6th. 


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