Film Review: How to Blow Up A Pipeline | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, February 22nd, 2024  

How To Blow Up A Pipeline

Studio: NEON
Director: Daniel Goldhaber

Apr 15, 2023 Web Exclusive
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So how do you blow up a pipeline? In this remarkable environmentalist film, Cam-director Daniel Goldhaber takes hold of Andreas Malm’s 2021 nonfiction work of the same name, and imagines a radical, explosive plot amongst a group of young activists to take out an oil pipeline. Using the text as a manifesto on which to build their core group, Goldhaber and screenwriters Ariela Barer and Jordan Sjol create their idealistic radicals solely for one purpose: destruction.

Set against a dry, dusty backdrop of rural Texas, the group use their learned skills in order to execute the plan. Michael (Forrest Goodluck), who is Indigenous, channels his anger at the fracking taking place near his home to perfect his DIY bomb-making skills. Meanwhile Xochitl, played by screenwriter Ariela Barer, has seen the effects of climate change first-hand, with her mother passing away during a heatwave. Everyone has a reason to be there, but more importantly, everyone takes part. This is community action / terrorism (delete as appropriate). Where you land on this is another conversation, and not one that the film is particularly interested in having. It doesn’t seek to justify their actions, seeing climate action as a moral obligation instead. This is a refreshingly sympathetic portrayal of revolutionary activists.

Yet the fleshing out of these characters, told through carefully-timed flashbacks, is sacrificed in favor of maintaining the film’s intensity, leaving most feeling a touch unexplored. It’s difficult to know whether a smaller cast would’ve allowed director Daniel Goldhaber to focus on his characters in a more personal way. The film feels maybe one or two characters too heavy. But whilst their reasons vary, what they share is a youthful conviction that contrasts with the more typically measured activism of protests and placards. After all, it is their future at stake and it’s the urgency of the film’s message that’s important here.

There’s also a clever recognition that, for better or worse, the way a message is packaged can be key. How To Blow Up A Pipeline is a sleek piece of filmmaking, and one that’s relatively simple in its delivery. The film slips smoothly into Hollywood heist territory, rattling along at just over 90 minutes, alongside a pulsating neo-noir score from Gavin Brivik that lends the film a Safdie-esque, DIY feel. It’s a neat marriage of big budget formula and indie aesthetic. But more than that, its gritty texture, shot on 16mm film, gives it an immediacy that attempts to break through the apathy towards the climate crisis. Perhaps a result of its short life span, just 19 months from conception to completion, it feels modern in a way few films can be. It certainly stands apart from common representations of environmentalism in cinema.

How To Blow Up A Pipeline is a film borne of ideas. It takes inspiration from those radicals who extended the historic understanding of violence to include inaction. But rather than take aim at its audience, it seeks to undermine the conservative tendency to exclude forms of legalized violence which cause harm and suffering. By using Andreas Malm’s somewhat controversial text on environmentalism as a blueprint, the film seeks to galvanize rather than justify, to echo the “rousing, provocative text” on which it’s based. It’s bold filmmaking from an exciting young director who surely has big things in the pipeline.

Author rating: 7/10

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Average reader rating: 5/10


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