How To Blow Up a Pipeline

Xochitl (Ariela Barer) is an idealistic college student whose best friend Theo (Sasha Lane, "American Honey") is dying from a rare type of leukemia found among people who live near oil refineries.  They, along with six others, know that they only fast track to effective climate change remedies is the destruction of fossil fuel delivery systems, but there may be a traitor in their midst as they figure out “How To Blow Up a Pipeline.”

Laura's Review: B-

Inspired by Andreas Malm’s book of the same name, cowriter (with star Ariela Barer and Jordan Sjol)/director Daniel Goldhaber ("Cam") has followed the classic heist movie formula replacing thieves with eco-terrorists.  We’ll meet Xochi in a pink hoodie deflating tires, skip to Theo’s girlfriend Alisha (Jayme Lawson, "The Batman") obtaining Intel while cleaning a house and witness Xochi’s classmate Shawn (Marcus Scribner, TV's 'Black-ish') recruit West Texas family man Dwayne (Jake Weary, "It Follows"), whose land has been seized by eminent domain to expand a pipeline.  Native American Michael (Forrest Goodluck, "The Revenant," "The Miseducation of Cameron Post") spurns his mom Joanna’s (Irene Bedard, TV's 'Alaska Daily') conservancy efforts to learn about explosives before joining the group along with late coming lovers Logan (Lukas Gage, HBO's 'White Lotus') and Rowan (Kristine Froseth, "Sharp Stick").

While we watch the tension build in the flat, rugged terrain of West Texas with Theo wearing a respirator to fill barrels as an intense Michael crafts detonators, the filmmakers skip around, filling in the latter’s background in North Dakota and the original group’s in L.A. before cluing us in to possible compromise in Portland, Oregon.  Meanwhile, the well planned sabotage begins to roll out, the group meeting unplanned obstacles like survey drones, frayed straps and short wires with ingenuity and sacrifice.  We won’t understand the full extent of the plan until after it has been accomplished which, oddly, is the most satisfying part of the film.

That is because there is something dispassionate about the proceedings as we watch everything click into place.  While Shawn is clearly nervous as Michael preps detonators, when an explosion sends clouds of dust billowing out, the man inside hasn’t forged any personal connections to elicit an emotional response.  It is only after the mission has been accomplished that motivations and relationships come into clearer view, editor Daniel Garber compressing the event’s aftermath into an impressive montage beneath the film’s closing credits.

“How to Blow Up a Pipeline” fails to deliver on its explosive title, but gets its climate change message through as it checks off its procedural steps.  It is a dispassionate passion project.

Robin's Review: B-

The climate crisis gets worse and nothing gets done. A small group of dedicated environmentalists decide that they have to take matters into their own hands and make a statement that WILL be heard. But first, they have to figure out “How to Blow Up a Pipeline.”

Based on ideas from Andreas Malm non-fiction book of the same name, director Daniel Goldhaber and scripter Ariiela Barer present a procedural chronicling the nuts and bolts of the title. The players in this sabotage plot are young and fiercely dedicated to the mission. We watch as they find a safe house for HQ, cook up explosives, risk their lives and assemble two 55 gallon oil barrels packed with the bomb material.

The story introduces us to all the young players – all faces unfamiliar to me – as they perform their varied duties and set up the logistics to plant the bombs. There are moments of tension, especially when making the bomb, and keeping to the timetable for the explosions.

In my heart, I support the environmentalists’ cause but have to say, I am not up with destruction as a political statement. There has been too much of that destruction taking place at the hands of the right wing in this country. I applaud the gesture but am against the results. There should be a better way but I fear we will not allow it to happen.

Neon opens "How To Blow Up a Pipeline" in select theaters on 4/7/2023, expanding on 4/14/2023.