‘How To Blow Up a Pipeline’: A Timely Thriller About Existing in Late-Stage Capitalism

Daniel Goldhaber crafts a mostly great, and taut thriller that stumbles slightly across the finish line.

by Spencer Henderson
How to Blow Up a Pipeline

As a twenty-something American, I am no stranger to the existential angst associated with pondering the horrors of climate change and how it will negatively impact my life. It’s impossible for me to fathom the complete disregard for altruism, the lack of consideration for the most desperate among us who will suffer in unimaginable ways, and the wanton destruction that the fossil fuel industry is leveling upon our planet. An industry where the only uncontaminated presence is pure, short-sighted greed that will exploit any loophole no matter how ruinous or morally reprehensible, and will regularly gaslight (if not outright lie to) the public for those who profit from its calamitous forces own self-interest and gain. It’s impossible to pay any level of attention to that and not feel deep-rooted despair coupled with anger at those responsible. That anger has been captured in films in the last decade such as Paul Schrader’s brilliant First Reformed and Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, and now is a palpable presence in Daniel Goldhaber’s latest directorial effort, How to Blow up a Pipeline.

How to Blow up a Pipeline is based off of the ideas presented in Andreas Malm’s non-fiction book of the same name. The book argues that climate activists should abandon their non-violent stances in the form of sabotaging the destructive forces that threaten the livelihood of the planet, as well as the human race (an example would be blowing up a pipeline). The film presents this notion in the form of a deeply timely thriller that follows a group of young people who hatch a plan to blow up two critical pieces of a pipeline located in Texas with the intent of hitting the fossil fuel industry where it hurts, as well as to inspire other climate activists to take similar destructive action against a force that oppresses and destroys everywhere it establishes itself. In short, they choose to fight destruction with destruction.

The most fascinating (and strongest) aspect of this film is the moral complexity of the challenging questions it asks. We never really leave the main ensemble of characters, and the fossil-fuel industry has no character stand-in with the intent to provide an analog for the viewer to associate with the mindset of corporate greed. Rather, the film uses imagery like an industrial power plant to instill a dread and ponderous question of the impact we are having on our planet. I found it deeply effective and powerful. The choice to spend virtually every moment of the film with (at least) one of our ensemble cast of characters allows the viewer to feel a strong sense of motivation for the extremity and nuance of each of their actions.

The cast is uniformly great with Ariela Barer (who also serves as a screenwriter for the film) and Jake Weary being personal standouts. It was also great to see Sasha Lane in a film again. I find her to be an extraordinarily underrated actress and have loved her ever since I saw her in Andrea Arnold’s utterly fantastic American Honey. However, each of the ensemble cast brings something powerful, and the film has a compelling structure that reveals things about each character in narratively satisfying ways. I found when the film decides to share information about certain characters it is mostly well-executed and smart. It’s paced incredibly well, and I was surprised how much it functions like a thriller. It dares to challenge the viewer with interesting questions while still managing to deliver the thrills one would expect from the genre.

I do have a substantial flaw with this film, and that is the ending. For a film so interested in exploring morally complex, and sometimes outright messy people, I found the ending much too neat and tidy for my liking. I almost feel inclined to call the ending “crowd-pleasing” which feels odd with this film in particular. In the real world, the occurrence of the fossil-fuel industry getting away with unfathomable atrocities and crimes against humanity on an almost daily basis can likely be considered a gross simplification of how insidious a force it truly is. It’s hard to imagine that climate change has a happy ending against such powerful forces fueled by human greed and apathy. However, maybe the reason for such a tidy ending is we go to movies for an escape, and it’s nice to leave the theater feeling that righteous causes will prevail and not the potentially horrible truth: that civilization is doomed, and the exchange is the profits of an industry that is capitalizing off of a finite resource.

You know what? Come to think of it, I’ll keep the clean ending.

Follow MovieBabble on Twitter @MovieBabble_ and Spencer @SpennyHend

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1 comment

Nick Kush April 11, 2023 - 9:08 pm

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