Synopsis: A crew of environmental activists plots a daring plan to disrupt an oil pipeline.
Stars: Ariela Barer, Kristine Froseth, Lukas Gage, Forrest Goodluck, Sasha Lane, Jayme Lawson, Marcus Scribner, Jake Weary, Irene Bedard
Director: Daniel Goldhaber
Running Length: 103 minutes
TMMM Score: (8.5/10)
Review: Published in 2021, How to Blow Up a Pipeline by Swedish ecology professor Andreas Malm is not, as it sounds, a step-by-step guide on constructing a destructive device that would take out a critical piece of transportation of market fuels. Instead, it’s an argument that questions how correct it is to continue to oppose acts of violence and war against organizations that aren’t listening to the pleas of activists screaming for change. It’s a call to action for a more physical form of climate activism that some critics remarked looks down on those who are content to stand on the sidelines of protests as sign-holders instead of getting involved. Divisive? I’ll say so.
The film version of How To Blow Up a Pipeline is inspired by the ideas introduced within Malm’s book, detailing what it would look like for a group of individuals impacted in some way by a conglomerate’s vice grip and how they unite in resorting to terroristic actions to make a statement. It’s a delicate film to handle because the topics being discussed are, ahem, explosive. Still, it’s genuinely a movie for our modern times, and a more immediate need to figure out how to work together has never been more prevalent. The divide illustrated throughout these 103 minutes shows how far the dial must be turned.
Eight twenty-somethings from diverse backgrounds leave their everyday lives behind for an operation long in the planning. Barely connected, but for the desire to drive home a message that can’t be ignored, all are willing to put themselves at significant risk to take on this task. Traveling to a deserted stretch of land in Texas close to an active pipeline, each team member has a job to do, and once arrived, they get to work with efficiency and little discussion.
Over the next day, we’ll not only see them prepare a series of homemade explosives to handicap oil transmission for a major company severely, but we’ll also learn why many of them have made this journey. Faced with a terminal diagnosis, likely from living so close to a power plant, Theo (Sasha Lane, Hellboy) is there with her girlfriend Alisha (Jayme Lawson, The Batman) after planning the strike with friend Xochitl (Ariela Barer). Mourning the loss of her mother, Xochitl has enlisted friend Shawn (Marcus Schribner, The Good Dinosaur), who in turn located Dwayne (Jake Weary, It Chapter Two), a farmer living closest to the area, and has had his land taken away by the government seized, by eminent domain for the company being targeted. Renegade environmentalists Logan (Lukas Gage, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) and Rowan (Kristine Froseth, Apostle) are wild cards skilled with the quick breaking and entering into locked facilities, and Michael (Forrest Goodluck, Cherry) is the bomb maker with the (mostly) steady hand.
Co-written by director Daniel Goldhaber, Jordan Sjol, and star Barer, How to Blow Up a Pipeline is a nervy film that drops you in boiling water and continues to turn up the heat. While it almost derails when it changes tone to a shoot-em-up action film, Goldhaber quickly gets us back on track. Any member of this cast on their own could be a capable lead of a movie, put them all together, and you have one of the strongest ensemble casts in recent memory. Each new flashback chapter adds greater layers, helping viewers understand how different motivations can draw people together to speak in unison. By the time the film has arrived at its breathless conclusion, it doesn’t even matter whether you agree or disagree with what’s been occurring because the point was that you’d listened at all.