A tense eco-thriller from US director Daniel Goldhaber questions just how far its young activist protagonists are willing to go in order to confront their nation’s complicity in the climate crisis.
Setting a match to feelings of environmental pessimism, How to Blow Up a Pipeline assembles a motley crew of would-be saboteurs ready to take direct action and make good on the film’s explosive title. Fed up with the glacial pace of pacifist social justice, agitators from diverse backgrounds come together around the thesis of the 2021 nonfiction book from which the film takes its name, which argues for property damage as a valid and effective form of climate activism. The target is an oil pipeline in Texas, the squad are a bunch of everyday people with no experience in industrial demolition, and the method is a patchwork of stolen chemicals and internet instructionals.
Nerve-jangling adventures in amateur explosives and spycraft are cut with a series of flashbacks that make each player’s motivations clear. The indigenous youth watching his land invaded and exploited, the dying young woman poisoned by chemical exposure, the farmer evicted from his family’s land—we may not agree on tactics, but it would be heartless not to sympathise with the anger. Championing what many would label an act of terrorism is an ambitious prospect, but the film is more than happy to get down in the mud and argue points of historical precedent, systemic collusion and the need to inspire hope. Taking the polemic at the heart of his source material, Goldhaber applies the same clever suspense that successfully elevated his previous techno-thriller, Cam (2018). Following the recipe of a punchy caper film with flavours lifted from The Anarchist Cookbook, How to Blow Up a Pipeline provides the audience with a team of relatable anti-heroes it can happily invest environmental frustrations in. If they don’t blow themselves up first. — Adrian Hatwell