How to Blow Up a Pipeline Review: The eco-terrorism thriller has no stakes

Sasha Lane, Lukas Gage and Forrest Goodluck lead a wasted ensemble of up-and-coming talent in this uninspiring environmental thriller.

Desperate times may call for desperate measures, but they don’t always inspire great art. While “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” is based on Swedish environmentalist Andreas Malm’s non-fiction book of the same name, a fictional fantasy of environmental terrorism with real stakes, that’s exactly what the film lacks.

Too watered down to meaningfully develop characters, How to Blow Up a Pipeline is an ensemble drama that relies on suspenseful music and chaotic flashbacks to piece together its tricky heist narrative. Using the book as philosophical inspiration, this Gen Z eco-thriller tries to appeal to a young audience plagued by climate anxiety, but lacks the style and ingenuity to translate it.

Daniel Goldhaber, who co-wrote the screenplay with “Runaways” actor Ariela Barer (who also stars in the film) and Jordan Sjoll, features an impressive roster of up-and-coming young actors in “How to Blow Up a Pipeline.” . “The White Lotus” favorite Lukas Gage, “American Honey” star Sasha Lane, and “The Revenant” actor Forrest Goodluck all add some intrigue to the ensemble, but unfortunately the script spreads the characters too thin for that. , to be used by full talents.

As the action progresses, the film seems to be more concerned with the pounding beats of the story rather than sending its characters on an emotional journey. While the backstories are presented in scattered flashbacks, we get to know their motivations for such dramatic actions, but only on a surface level.

The film opens with the group gathering in a remote location in Texas, each packing various chemicals, weapons, and other baggage. With very few scenes lasting more than a few minutes, “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” introduces its eight main characters in rapid succession. We meet Theo (Lane) vomiting in the bathroom after a cancer support group; Dwayne (Jake Weary) kisses his wife and child goodbye; Xochi (Barer) buries her mother.

Decked out in studs and leather, Logan (Gage) and Rowan (Kristine Froseth) represent the crust punk contingent, though they look more like suburban cos players than actual anarchists. Grinding loner Michael (Goodluck) is an explosives expert who started his hobby as an alternative to fighting the local oil workers near the reservation. Two black characters, Elisha (Jayme Lawson) and Shawn (Marcus Scribner), have roughly equal screen time, but no dedicated backstory—they only exist in relation to other characters.

After a hard day preparing explosives, the crew kicks back with a few drinks and a snack, where the bubbly conversation naturally turns to the topic of terrorism. Will they be branded as terrorists? Michael doesn’t care. Dwayne points out that the Boston Tea Party was classified as terrorism, to which someone replies, “If the American empire is calling us terrorists, then we’re doing something right.” Something that targets Martin Luther King Jr. with the FBI and it feels very high school debate club.

"How to blow up a pipeline" Sasha Lane

“How to Blow Up a Pipeline”

Courtesy of the Everett Collection

As the action continues, the bet remains in constant buzz. The tension of the beginning never really hits, no matter how many times the same dramatic music plays. A minor hiccup is quickly resolved and Michael mutters, “Your wire is fucking out of whack, Sean!” two seconds before apparently using it anyway, telling him, “Nice work with the wires.” Stylistically, the film is all over the map, with no cohesive visual language or point of view. There is an artistic shot of Xochi taking a bath in blue light, smoking a cigarette, but even this clichéd motif never returns.

“How to Blow Up a Pipeline” is Goldhaber’s second feature, but he showed much more promise with the clever porn-horror “Cam.” An engaging allegory about online identity and the commodification of bodies, “Cam” has a bold aesthetic and sound to spare. Isa Mazzei, who wrote “Cam” based on his own book, produced “Pipeline,” but perhaps there were too many chefs in the kitchen for their idea to work.

Although the film fulfills the fantasy that direct action is possible, there is nothing to suggest that it had any political or environmental impact. What “Pipeline” achieves, while not dissimilar to what the book does, is to question what is moral in the face of environmental destruction. How far will we go to combat climate catastrophe, and what will it take for the powers that be to wake up and take notice? Much more than “How to blow up a pipeline”.

grade: C-

Neon edition. “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” is currently playing in select theaters.

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