‘How to Blow Up a Pipeline’ Review: “Ticking Time-Bomb Eco-Thriller”
The climate crisis is getting worse as the years pass. The need to take action to protect our planet is urgent. Many activists have spoken about the global collapse that might happen if we as a society continue to do nothing about this rapidly-burning climate. One is Swedish author and associate professor of human ecology at Lund University Andreas Malm. In his climate-change manifesto titled ‘How to Blow Up a Pipeline (or Learning to Fight in a World of Fire)’, Malm argues the best way to protest and fight against the big corporations damaging our planet – whether or not sabotage is a logical form of climate activism. Inspired by his own activism, Malm states in the book that pacifism within the climate movement won’t cut it.
If one remains with a sense of restraint in terms of action, it isn’t going to hit the guys at the top hard enough for them to start making changes. He criticizes the “commitment to absolute non-violence” of protesters and activists. Instead, he wants their campaigns to start taking a physical turn. In essence, bombing a fossil fuel infrastructure would serve as a more meaningful and noteworthy message than destroying a painting by throwing pumpkin soup at it. This paves the way for American filmmaker Daniel Goldhaber to adapt Malm’s non-fiction book onto the screen. With the help of writers Ariela Barer and Jordan Sjol, Goldhaber delivers his sophomore feature titled after the manifesto, How to Blow Up a Pipeline. The film ends up as a cinematic push for climate justice and an exhilarating ticking time-bomb eco-thriller.
How to Blow Up a Pipeline centers around Xochitl (Barer) and a diverse group of aspiring eco-activists – or, if you see it from the perspective of those being attacked, “eco-terrorists”. They all have many reasons to pursue a far more extreme call to action to save the planet. Shawn (Marcus Scribner) wants to help the people he’s been filming for a documentary on the environment and how its changes affect them. Michael (Forrest Goodluck) and Dwayne (Jake Weary) want to protect their homebound land. On the other hand, Theo (Sasha Lane) has a more impactful reason behind her actions. Theo has received some quite alarming news about her health. She’s making the events that transpire in the film her “last hoorah”. Her girlfriend Alisha (Jayme Lawson) holds her hand until the end.
READ: ‘Spinning Gold’ Review: “Long Live Disco, Funk & Rock ‘N Roll”
Nevertheless, there are two more crew members with darker intentions than the aforementioned, Logan (Lukas Gage) and Rowan (Kristine Froseth). Their worries about the future and their existential angst collide to fuel their pursuit of activist action. So, they head off on a trip a few days before Christmas. An old abandoned shack in the middle of the Texas desert awaits them. They will make their own make-shift bombs and plant them in an oil pipeline. Why? To send a clear message to those who have moved the first chess piece in this fight to keep the planet safe and sound. They talk about the climax of this event. The uncertainty of their actions in the history books worries them. These exchanges reflect their complicated feelings and angst lingering in their heads as the days pass.
The poisonous fumes of government-issued toxins have cursed them all. They begin to ponder if their actions might hurt people rather than statements. The group divides itself into two when it comes to this separate issue. Some believe resistance movements help society. But then the term “terrorist” comes into play and is attached to their activism. How to Blow Up a Pipeline implements flashbacks to deliver more details of each character’s motives and makes elusive cuts to keep the suspense and doubt of their goal raising by the minute. Goldhaber ensures that this storytelling system doesn’t feel tiresome or saturated by focusing on the bare-bones realism of the whole plan and action.
This structure provides the viewer with the characters’ obstacles inside and outside their conjoined activism. Because of such, we are shown their brooding passion for justice in many moments. All of this is rooted in their troubled pasts that have led to this moment of no return. The crew is sick and tired of the abuse government agencies have done to the land where they reside. Goldhaber intertwines those moments of backstory with carefully researched plan outlines and D.I.Y. bomb-making via The Anarchist Cookbook’s detailed recipes. There are several moments where the camera lingers on the sheets and equipment. The audience glimpses at the specific amounts and ratios of chemicals for each blasting cap and charge.
These shots make us even more anxious (and fascinated) about whether or not something might go wrong in the process. There’s a constant sway of tension that never leaves the screen. Accompanying the cinematography of Tehillah De Castro, a tense 80s-inspired synth score by composer Gavin Brivik uplifts How to Blow Up a Pipeline‘s suspense-filled atmosphere. The score feels persuasive and percussive, like a car chase leading to a dead-end or a constantly-beating heart. It motivates Goldhaber to keep the film’s momentum going for its entirety and to full effect. The movie reminds me of Kelly Reichardt’s brilliant feature Night Moves, albeit without the pessimism of the climate movement attached to it, as Goldhaber’s feature is quite more optimistic. However, both of them serve well as a double-bill.
Goldhaber conceptualizes Malm’s manifesto as a compelling thriller that, although it might not change every viewer’s perspective, is worth more than its political messages. The director wants to focus more on the process and progress of these movements rather than being a tale of damnation or a “we need to act now” picture. It will raise many conversations, both by cinephiles and politicians. In the end, How to Blow Up a Pipeline is an engaging and fascinating film that gets a hold of the audience with its significant amount of suspense and ticking time-bomb structure. – Hector Gonzalez
How to Blow Up a Pipeline opens in select theaters on April 7th.
Did you like this article? If so, consider visiting our YouTube channel, where we discuss the latest and greatest in pop culture news.
Leave a Comment