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How To Blow Up a Pipeline review — A singular, explosive portrayal of Gen-Z rage


How To Blow Up a Pipeline opens with a young woman (Ariela Barer) walking down a sidewalk with what could be interpreted as a despondent gleam in her eye — purposeless, perhaps void? Certainly on guard, overly aware of her surroundings. She approaches a sure-to-be fuel-guzzling SUV and knifes its tires. Her attack is completed with the placement of a yellow flyer beneath the car’s windshield wiper, a cherry atop her sunday of radical sabotage. On the flyer is bright red lettering that reads “Why I sabotaged your property” above a list of reasons, proof the film to come will be sure to supply its viewers with a variable collection of reasonings alongside the moral quandaries at the core of the story.

How To Blow Up a Pipeline is a film adaptation of Andreas Malm’s 2021 book of the same name, a nonfiction examination of the complexities of climate change activism: it lands staunchly in support of sabotage and property violence as a viable effort in the fight against climate change and firmly criticizes pacifism. It has been the center of much discussion and criticism, existing as a fringe piece of political thought from a leading international voice in human ecology. His passages are crafted into a fictional story about eight frustrated young adults who plan to blow up a Texas oil pipeline.

It is a marvel in book-to-screen adaptation. Director Daniel Goldhaber, Ariela Barer, and Jordan Sjol create a world fueled by anger inhabited by beautifully complex, original characters, all disenfranchised in one way or another: Xochitl’s (Barer) mother has recently passed due to a heat wave in her town plagued by oil pollution, Theo (Sasha Lane) has been diagnosed with terminal cancer due to the same polluted air, Michael (Forrest Goodluck) is a Native American who’s reservation is constantly being encroached on by outsiders with an interest in using their land for oil — amongst others economically terrorized by the system. Every character is a whole person, entirely lived through, and with a world of possibility inside every moment they appear on screen. They are played to perfection by a cast of young actors who embody fully both the hope and anger these characters possess. A standard convention of flashbacks for each character could easily be a drag, but instead successfully bares their motivations and expands their emotional worlds.

Goldhaber’s direction is a standout. He effectively creates equal part razor-sharp thriller and anxiety-provoking heist film. It stylistically shares DNA with a Soderbergh Oceans flick but never shies away from the political questions essential to its core. The edit is tactical, juggling multiple characters and flashbacks with ease while still managing to add flare by playing with jump cuts that rhythmically disrupt all expectations. Gavin Brivk’s score is one of the best of the year, a constant, strenuous sound that reverberates through your already tense body.

I have been waiting all year for something to move me, to cause a tectonic shift in my cinephilic world — and this film did just that. Gen-Z rage is encapsulated here in a way that I have never seen on screen. The feeling of being surrounded by a world rife with socio-political issues — economic destruction, climate change, racism, colonialism — and feeling powerless to do anything but shout into the void about it. Other times yelling isn’t an option, only fear paralysis due to the thought that both speaking up and remaining silent have a consequence. These characters aren’t privileged with the ability to make any choice but to take action.

The filmmakers are unafraid of having complex conversations that cover all sides, even if they may lean more partisan when it comes down to it. In a moment of calm, the group sits around and drinks the night before their attack. They wonder how they will be seen afterward: will they be terrorists even though they don’t see themselves that way? Moments like these are scattered throughout the runtime, the characters questioning their morals but still existing firmly as our protagonists. The main character flaw they all share is this rage, it overtakes all of them until they are pushed to their boiling point. They cure their powerlessness by power back  in the way that it  has been displayed to them — violent, brutal, and imposing. The filmmakers are brave in their investigation of these questions that will surely flag this as a dangerous film to many. Some see this as a film that promotes eco-terrorism, but I posit it is a film that uses fiction to momentarily give power to the disenfranchised and allows them to protect their bodies and their land without the threats that wait for them in reality. It served as a welcome reminder of film’s unique power as political messaging when navigated by filmmakers undaunted by having a strong take.

As the events of the heist ramp up to a kinetic climax we are allowed a moment to breathe in a flashback: Theo explains to her girlfriend Alisha (Jayme Lawson) how when she was a kid she would play in the rain. Every time the rain hit her skin it would burn, and every time she returned inside from playing she would have red welts all over her body. That was her reality, a reality that Alisha would never understand — and a reality that many of us never will, either. How To Blow Up a Pipeline is a rare gem of a film. It is unapologetic in its approach and is representative of a generation’s frustrations, sure to spark curiosity on how to make the world a better place in anyone who watches.


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