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How to Blow Up a Pipeline Review: A Powerful, Must-Watch Character Driven Call to Activism

Forrest Goodluck in HOW TO BLOW UP A PIPELINE.
Photo Courtesy NEON Films.

If the best kinds of movies are the ones that are meant to reflect reality and inspire its audience, then How to Blow Up a Pipeline is a necessary viewing. The film provides thought-provoking depictions of activism and impact in-between tense thrills and remarkable performances.

Inspired by the ideas and concepts from Andreas Malm’s 2021 book of the same name, How to Blow Up a Pipeline has an almost documentary-like feel. Viewers are placed alongside a group of eight young people as they formulate and execute a plan to blow up an oil pipeline in West Texas as a form of protest. As their plan reaches its explosive climax, they face tough obstacles and opposition that present greater consequences for their future and the aftermath of this endeavor.

The immersive elements of How to Blow Up a Pipeline are what makes it such a deeply engaging and intriguing experience from the start. It’s cool how viewers get to see every step of this plan coming together – from how the group constructs their plans and alibis to the recruitment of the team. It shows the carefully constructed nature of this idea evolving into something bigger and allows viewers to invest deeper into the experience. Some of the most emotionally impactful moments actually come from the small flashbacks for each character though as they give viewers insight into why this plan matters so much to them and what they’re motivated by.

The emotional core of How to Blow Up a Pipeline is in seeing each character’s backstory. It not only gives them a richer depth, but also displays the genuine human impact of climate change. The sheer image of seeing how oil refineries and factories have literally consumed neighborhoods in the background of some flashbacks hits hard. It’s strong visual storytelling brings you into the perspectives of characters like Xochitl (Ariela Barer) and Theo (Sasha Lane), and helps viewers feel the raw tragedy of the deaths and personal destruction they’ve suffered from because of climate change. The stories of Michael (Forrest Goodluck) and Dwayne (Jake Weary) are compelling not just because of how tied to reality they are, but the small glimpses of commonality they share and show. Despite there being different reasons behind them losing their homes and having their lives be torn asunder by these oil companies, Michael and Dwayne show a sense of commonality that drives them and sparks some relatability to both their stories.

Within these flashbacks, we get to see a personal side to the characters that flexes the strengths of these performances. In the same way that each character brings their own skillset and purpose to the plan, every performance brings a distinct frustration and personality to the group. Weary and Goodluck bring a strong sense of determination to their characters that make you feel their silent anger and  they act as compelling game-changers within this group. It’s great that this cast and the character depictions really reflect the wide net of personalities and beliefs surrounding activism yet still shows how they can work cohesively together. However, Barer’s performance as Xochitl is far and away the best of the cast mostly because of how her emotions, perspective, and story influence the wider themes and meaning behind the group’s actions.

Xochitl represents the breaking point and this understandable ideology of being forced to take drastic action. Her life has been so torn apart by the effects of climate change that she feels that blowing up this pipeline is the only real way left to send a meaningful message. Barer does a phenomenal job letting you into Xochitl’s emotions and mindset while also being this distinct driving force for the group. She’s truly committed in a way that most wouldn’t understand at face-value but will by the end of the film and it’s both bold and heartbreaking. The film grapples with what the group’s sense of activism is incredibly well throughout the film and has tough conversations about the impact and viewpoint of activism by the wider public.

The scenes dissecting the group’s ideology around sabotage activism and the actions they’re about to undergo are just as riveting as the more action-oriented thrills the film provides. The way their plan is characterized as being destructive without wanting to directly hurt people or cause greater devastation in the process is perfect in helping define the difference between domestic terrorism and activism. The conversations that characters have about activism needing to go further to make an impact is well-handled and carry a lot of meaning and purpose – especially for today.

It’s even great how Alisha (Jayme Lawson) confronts and rightfully criticizes Xochitl about her ideas and the role she believes she’s playing because it helps further define the film’s purpose in displaying activism. How to Blow Up a Pipeline isn’t a film trying to educate or inspire people to directly take the same actions as these characters but is trying to make their message clear and utilizes thoughts and conversation around activism to spark thought within viewers on the subject in the hope of genuine change – something desperately needed now more than ever.

Aside from it featuring a great cast, timely themes and messaging, and a captivating personal story, How to Blow Up a Pipeline is amazing simply because it’s a damn good thriller. Director Daniel Goldhaber showed some incredible potential with his feature debut Cam back in 2018, but he elevates his suspense and storytelling craft to new levels with this film. Goldhaber does a great job keeping the intensity high and making viewers feel the stakes whether the group is simply getting things into place or Michael is building sensitive explosives. It’s a sweat-inducing and nerve-shredding experience from start to finish – which easily makes it one of the most effective thrillers this year.

The real MVP of How to Blow Up a Pipeline is Daniel Garber’s editing since it heavily influences the story and shocks. The hard cuts between explosive moments and expanded exposition are flawless and create great jolts that up the tension. Plus, the vision of Goldhaber and editing skills of Garber mix excellently to create some engaging storytelling that heavily evokes the vibes of Reservoir Dogs – especially with its late twists that expand on what characters know and their motivations.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline is a required watch not only for its immensely thrilling and suspenseful nature backed by great performances, direction, editing, and storytelling (the list could go on and on), but also for its realistic and needed themes around activism that contain powerful and thought-provoking stories that are universally impactful and timely for the current strikes within the film industry.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline is now available on demand.

Tom Moore
Tom Moorehttps://mooreviews.com/
Tom is always ready to see and review everything horrifying and hilarious that hits theaters, television, and video games...sometimes. You can check out his other reviews and articles on his blog, Mooreviews.

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