How to Blow Up a Pipeline is loosely based on Andreas Malm’s novel, which makes a case for the climate movement to escalate its tactics. Malm argues that only with destruction and violence can there be revolutionary change, and that’s the essence here of Daniel Goldhaber’s film. What we get is a heist sort of film, with young people in their early 20s coming together to – as the title suggests – blow up a pipeline.
Goldhaber’s film brings together the personal and the global, as each person that becomes part of the plan to blow up a pipeline due to inciting personal reasons. These stories are told to us through measured flashbacks that take place throughout, giving us insight into these individuals and how they came to be part of the fight. Xochitl (Ariela Barer) loses her mother to a heatwave, and this anger fuels her to hatch a plan with classmate Shawn (Marcus Scribner) to do some destruction of their own. They assemble a crew, each of them with a part to play and an axe to grind with the oil company.
Michael (Forrest Goodluck) is tired of being peaceful and passive, so he starts learning how to make explosives with products you can get at your local store. Dwayne’s family has been ousted from property they’ve owned for generations, just so the oil company can build their pipeline. He tried to settle it through the courts, but was given very little agency in the matter. Theo (Sasha Lane), Xochitl’s best friend, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, the result of growing up in a refinery town.
As the gang gather and prepare, the soundscape and tense visuals keep us invested, as do the engaging backstories we get for each character. The most poignant parts of the film are when we get to see these young people just chilling and laughing with each other, so bright and exuberant, having to possibly upend their lives because the people at the top are sitting on their hands.
The film makes it clear that when such escalation tactics are involved, things will get messy. Every single one of them knows the danger – they could get injured, arrested, and even die if things go wrong. But these are risks that have to be taken if change is to occur.
While watching the film, I couldn’t help but recall a real life event that took place last year, when Just Stop Oil Activists threw tomato soup over a Van Gogh painting. The prevailing discussion became more about art vs. climate change, with many opposing the activists’ choice of method due to the cultural legacy these art pieces represent. The common refrain? There has to be a better way. Goldhaber’s film notes that there are other ways to go about dealing with climate change, but are they incendiary enough to incite some measure of difference? Do we grow seeds or blow things up?
Goldhaber’s sophomore film is certainly a thematic departure from his first film Cam, yet it’s easy to see the spirit that unites both these films. They flesh out very real issues we’re dealing with now, and Goldhaber wraps these issues in a narrative that is exciting and entertaining. How to Blow Up a Pipeline is a thrilling, exhilarating film, and I can’t wait to see what Goldhaber brings to the screen next.
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There's a certain genius involved in packaging radical environmental activism as a heist-like thriller. Daniel Goldhaber's film is intensely engaging and simply electrifying.
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