cinema · GFF23

Film review: How to Blow Up a Pipeline

 Inspired by the ideas in Andreas Malm’s non-fiction book of the same name, How to Blow Up a Pipeline marks the sophomore feature from American writer and director Daniel Goldhaber. The eco-action-thriller follows a group of young people as they plot to sabotage the development of an oil pipeline in West Texas. Assembled by ringleaders Xochitl (Ariela Barer) and Shawn (Marcus Scribner), they share common ground in their fight for environmental social justice, but their daring mission comes with huge risks and consequences.

 Opening with little exposition or explanation, we’re immediately thrust into the planning and process of the ‘act of self-defence’ at the heart of the story. This rough and ready approach generates suspense and intrigue from get go, and the camera moves with an alarming sense of urgency. Narratively, the film has the trappings of a heist flick, like a Reservoir Dogs in the climate change era, and we’re let into the backstories and motivations of our perpetrators with crude flashbacks in moments of extreme tension. These glimpses into the characters’ pasts are crucial and well handled, allowing us to identify with their logic and reasoning even though, as they themselves admit, they are committing what will be seen by the authorities as an act of terrorism.

 Much of the cast are relatively unknown which may work in the film’s favour to a degree, emphasising its timeliness in a way that feels very authentic. The lead is played by Ariela Barer, who worked on the screenplay alongside co-writers Jordan Sjol and Goldhaber. As the radical orchestrator, there’s a magnetic fearlessness to Xochitl that comes through in the courageous performance. Recognisable faces include Sasha Lane and Lukas Gage who bring their indie star quality to the roles but the writing of each individual is in-depth and engaging, and the naturalistic acting underlines this.

 At what point does passivity become complicity in the damage that is being done every day to the planet and its people? Using cinema as his loudspeaker with a daring, visceral and vital picture, Daniel Goldhaber makes a bold but equally thought-provoking statement and How to Blow Up a Pipeline amplifies Malm’s manifesto with explosive impact.


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