Daniel Goldhaber’s impressive, tight, and important-now-more-than-ever sophomore feature How to Blow Up a Pipeline is a stellar and tense call-to-action. It’s a new generation heist thriller, one that speaks to self-defense and intentional oil disaster in order to upend the incoming environmental and ecological ones. Without being preachy or acting like an environmental infographic, it toes the line between the inspiring and terrifying in a way that is legitimate, profound, and truly effective.
Tehillah De Castro’s camerawork is all-consuming, with tracking shots that get engulfed in dust and smoke, wides that mirror National Geographic shots, and close-ups that only enhance the individual pain that the climate crisis inflicts. The cinematography is a compendium of environmental reportage and science-fiction-like shots, framing disasters alongside beauty, a marvelous and harrowing picture book of what we are about to lose.
The screenplay is superbly written, with a keen idea of the various demographics that make up this eco-vigilante team, of their commonalities and their differences. Fresh humor that capitalizes on the Gen Z attitude without too heavily embodying that “How do you do, fellow kids?” gif really ties the chemistry of the group together. Goldhaber’s writing laces a riveting conversation about anarchy, terrorism, and acting outside of the system with light humor that cinches the chemistry between the cast.
Each character, fascinating and well-acted as they are, are still not serviced as well as they could have been due to the relatively short runtime, but in the fast-paced film they are all still intriguing and fully-formed integral aspects of the heist. And still, the people on the team are but a blip on the cosmology of climate activism needed to reverse or at least halt the destruction that is all-but-promised by science, industry, and inaction. The story is the heist and the movement that is bigger than one singular person, that is driven not by ego or glory but fear and desperation, and still reflected in each character’s background. In the limited capacity for character study, the film still holistically captures an array of motivations and thought processes behind joining a team to blow up a pipeline, people who have personal connections to the issue who are left with no other option but radical, destructive activism.
The editing, tighter than the ticking clock on our impending environmental destruction, makes the feature film feel as efficient as a short, with no shot, line, or scene wasted. Every moment is efficient and crucial, perhaps a metaphor for the tightness required in the heist and of our actions if we are to truly make a difference in the climate crisis.
Like a smart, fresh, near-antithesis to Ocean’s Eleven or heist films built on desire for capital and wealth and gluttony, How to Blow Up a Pipeline’s master plan is one born out of necessity. The film skips the long expository openings of many heists and launches straight into the crime, a depiction of the necessity and speed which these actions require. Interspersed throughout various tense moments are the backstories of each member of the group, their personal histories and the circumstances that brought them to work together in West Texas to eviscerate an oil pipeline. And where the finale of large, flashy heist films is a smug slink back to a life of luxury and comfort, the end of How to Blow Up a Pipeline plunges the crew into more chaos, and all the fallout of their action. The goal was disruption, and the aftermath recognizes that.
The film, in all aspects, manages to be poignant and inspiring without ever veering towards cheesiness or overzealousness. This is not a call to vote or to reshare articles on why we should eat less meat or bike more. This is a call to truly fight, to organize and take concrete, disruptive action. This is a call for radical self-defense.
How to Blow Up a Pipeline
dir. Daniel Goldhaber
Part of the 2023 Boston Underground Film Festival – click here to follow our continuing festival coverage!
Opens in theaters Friday, 4/7