A crew of environmental activists plot a daring plan to disrupt an oil pipeline.
‘How to Blow Up a Pipeline’ is a gripping action-thriller about a group of environmental activists who devise and implement a plan to, as the title suggests, blow up an oil pipeline in West Texas. Loosely based on Andreas Malm’s non-fiction book of the same title, it builds a narrative around Malm’s ideas that sabotage and property destruction are valid tactics to tackle climate change by raising awareness and damaging the profits of organisations that benefit from the fossil fuel industry. Whether you agree with Malm’s or these characters that such actions are justifiable may impact on how much you like the film, but viewed purely as a tense, taut heist thriller, there is no denying that ‘How to Blow Up a Pipeline’ is a gripping watch.
The movie takes place in two timelines; the present, where a group of individuals travel separately to a meeting point in a sparse area of Texas surrounded by oilfields, and flashbacks to show us how each of these characters got to a position where they were willing to commit an act of eco-terrorism. It’s a really effective technique that helps us get to know these characters as the story progresses, but through withholding this information initially leaving their motivations unclear, which works well for the movie. They’re initially introduced as archetypes which we’ll all recognise from any heist film – you’ve got the ringleader, the explosions expert, the inside man, the wildcard – at a simplistic level this is no different from an ‘Oceans’ movie in setup, with the setting and moral ambiguities providing the key difference.
There have been other films that have tackled such a topic, but perhaps not many that have been as sympathetic to its protagonists as ‘How to Blow Up a Pipeline’ is, which I felt gave the film an extra edge, forcing you as an audience member to become complicit in their activities. As someone who would be quite strongly against such activity in ‘real life’, I was surprised at how invested I was in the ‘heist’ and the characters, and I could feel my heart pounding at every moment where it felt like something was about to go wrong. ‘How to Blow Up a Pipeline’ is a very well made eco-thriller with a compelling narrative and exciting storytelling that had me gripped from the outset. Whatever your politics, this is a movie well worth seeking out.
Directed By: Daniel Goldhaber
Starring: Ariela Barer, Kristine Froseth, Lukas Gage, Forrest Goodluck, Sasha Lane, Jayme Lawson, Marcus Scribner, Jake Weary and Irene Bedard