A Clear-Eyed & Radical Climate Thriller

Apr 6, 2023

The climate crisis is here. Whether it’s unprecedented weather in Texas shutting down power grids or devastating flooding in Afghanistan and Pakistan, communities are facing the effects of climate change head-on every day. Giving this subject the nuance it deserves in a two-hour package is a nearly impossible task, but How to Blow Up a Pipeline tackles the climate crisis with a radical and heart-pounding approach that manages to both thrill and inform without becoming preachy or sacrificing its razor-sharp perspective for the centrist position often taken by Hollywood.

The target: A pipeline in the Texas desert. The group: A ragtag collection of climate activists, outsiders, and people whose dedication to the task at hand is connected to something deeply personal. Through deftly placed flashbacks, How to Blow Up a Pipeline reveals just how these people come together and how they really feel about what they are doing. Everything revolves around the plan, but there’s no clear hierarchy established, making each member of the ensemble feel equally important. As the plan unfolds, How to Blow Up a Pipeline explores the effects of the climate crisis in unique ways that serve to underscore the severity of the crisis and the very personal toll it takes on everyone it touches.

Ariela Barer in How to Blow Up a Pipeline.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline is adapted from Andreas Malm’s book of the same name. Malm advocates for sabotage in the manifesto, critiquing pacifism in the climate activist movement and decrying climate fatalism. Ultimately, Malm argues that sabotage is a rational response to the crisis at hand. How to Blow Up a Pipeline masterfully weaves the arguments in Malm’s book into a narrative that still manages to feel both like a treatise on the current state of the issue and something wholly thrilling. This is thanks in part to director Daniel Goldhaber, who co-wrote the script for the film alongside Jordan Sjol and Ariela Barer, the latter of whom stars as Xochitl in the film.

Even in the framing of many of its shots, the film is eco-conscious — as two characters share a cigarette during an extended flashback, tall metal towers and pipes loom behind them. Another show contrasts the metal framework of some sort of plant or facility against a frozen tundra — the tower is spewing flames and Michael (Forrest Goodluck) is framed against what looks to be a nearly insurmountable obstacle. There not being a clear hierarchy in the group also subtly underscores the way in which everyone will, eventually, suffer from the climate crisis in one way or another.

Forrest Goodluck in How to Blow Up a Pipeline. 

Despite the lack of hierarchy, How to Blow Up a Pipeline uses quick but effective character work to establish how and why each person is invested in their task. From Texas landowner Dwayne (Jake Weary) to Theo (Sasha Lane), who is diagnosed with leukemia as a result of growing up near some sort of plant, the film is as diverse in its casting as it is in the stories it is telling, again emphasizing the reach that climate change has on the world and its occupants.

Despite this, though, How to Blow Up a Pipeline is remarkably intimate. From its close-up shots to its wide framing of characters against the barren Texas desert, there is a sense of immediacy that makes the film’s thriller elements all the more enrapturing. By the time the crew is actually attempting to blow up the pipeline, each character feels wholly realized, a feat for such a large ensemble working against a ticking clock. How to Blow Up a Pipeline’s most poignant moments don’t come from its genre elements. Rather, the genre elements work so well because the film is an exploration about the ways, both big and small, that people can be radicalized into action.

The cast of How to Blow Up a Pipeline. 

While films about climate change have encompassed genres from the disaster epic (Roland Emmerich’s early aughts classic The Day After Tomorrow) to heavy-handed satire (like Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up), the response in those films has been one of apathy or one spurred by the fact that disaster has already struck. How to Blow Up a Pipeline makes it clear that disaster has already struck, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over. It’s only just begun.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline will release in select theaters on April 13. The film is 103 minutes long and rated R for language throughout and some drug use.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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