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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

How to Blow Up a Pipeline: Review

How to Blow Up a Pipeline Synopsis: With the climate crisis at a point of no return, a group of environmental activists devises a daring plan to make their voices heard and disrupt an oil pipeline.

When frustrations build to a collective breaking point, an ensemble of environmental activists embark on a radical plan to create systemic change in How to Blow Up a Pipeline.

Crafting a thriller embedded in the growing angst around our planet’s decaying ecosystem is a timely approach from writer/director Daniel Goldhaber. Goldhaber is quickly establishing himself as an intriguing voice in the industry with his socially conscious projects. His first film, 2018’s CAM, utilized a similar genre movie pastiche to examine the callous gaze facing many adult performers. For me, the film struggled to formulate its worthy ideas into a compelling experience, although it still radiated promise as an ambitious directorial debut.

In How to Blow Up a Pipeline, Goldhaber elevates his craft to new heights. The film conveys compassion and urgency in its pulse-pounding depiction of an essential conversation.

Pipeline seeks out a challenging high-wire balancing act. How can the cast and filmmaking team richly develop a crowded roster of characters and a comprehensive thesis without descending into sanctimonious rhetoric? I would say Goldhaber excels in one of these facets while registering mixed results in the other.

As an ensemble piece, Pipeline establishes rich textures within its compact 100-minute runtime. Goldhaber’s screenplay intermixes real-time narrative and anthology-esque backstory in creating his compelling collage of characters. This risky choice thankfully forms a well-calibrated equilibrium – a perfect harmony where intimate revelations from the past establish pressing motivations for each figure in the environmental crusade.

I appreciate the film’s ability to define nuanced perspectives for most of its characters. Xochitl and Shawn are eager yet emotionally burned-out college students seeking tangible change outside of typical petitions and rallies. Burdened by a fatal diagnosis tied to toxic environmental conditions, Theo sees destroying the pipeline as a necessary measure of revenge, with her loving girlfriend Alisha attending in support despite her reticence towards the mission. Texas resident Dwayne and Native American Michael experience the expansion of fossil fuels firsthand as corporations impede on their land. Then there is the wanderlust couple of Logan and Rowan, a duo who expel manic energy in their pursuit of a cause worth fighting for. I give the cast significant praise for instilling life into each of their characters’ dilemmas. Ariela Barer as Xochitl and Sasha Lane as Theo are particular standouts as lifelong friends looking to make a difference despite their bleak futures.

These varied viewpoints reflect not only discontentment towards society’s sluggish response to climate change, but also a grander generational snapshot. In a world where many 20-somethings like myself suffer from waning optimism amidst a slew of unavoidable issues, such as exorbitant costs, a deflating job market, and a general lack of attention toward several societal quandaries, it’s easy to feel hopeless. I found How to Blow Up a Pipeline most impactful in how the film observes disenfranchised figures embracing radicalism as the only solution to communicate their long-ignored cries for help.

Within these worthwhile ideas, How to Blow Up a Pipeline still excels as a compelling thriller. Goldhaber and Cinematographer Tehillah De Castro showcase exacting precision throughout the film’s slow-burn approach. The duo’s ambient stillness behind the camera creates an intoxicating unease in each step of the planning process, slowly building a palpable momentum that kept me anxiously suspended at the edge of my seat. I can’t say enough how refreshing it is to watch a thriller devoid of gimmicks. Goldhaber displays poise by relying on his material strengths rather than pandering for cheap thrills.

For as much as I enjoyed How to Blow Up a Pipeline, the film sadly trips over itself during its lackluster final act. The ensemble’s efforts to destroy fossil fuel infrastructure is an act of domestic terrorism, which they even discuss at one point during a conversation in the film. Lending a sympathetic lens to people pursuing unlawful measures as an instrument for positive change welcomes some fascinating complexities, but the final act undermines the moral ambiguity of these actions by spelling out a clean and frankly highly improbable conclusion. It’s frustrating that Goldhaber spells out what he thinks audiences should take away from the experience instead of trusting viewers to draw their own conclusions.

An underwhelming end still does not rob How to Blow Up a Pipeline of its impact. Goldhaber and his team create an arresting thriller overflowing with thoughtful takeaways.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline is now playing in theaters.


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