A different Kind of Oil Boom. ‘How to Blow Up a Pipeline’

Lee Heidhues 4.7.2023

I just read about this film opening today and was immediately riveted watching the Trailer.

My first reaction was to think about the Nord Stream 2 pipeline which was blown up last September and continues to be the subject of much speculation as to the perpetrators.

But, no, this is a homegrown fictionalization placed in the category of Art imitates Life.

Definitely not your normal American mall movie nonsense.

Excerpted from The New York Times 4.6.2023

“How to Blow Up a Pipeline” is at its best when it functions as a kind of roughed-up caper movie; it has a degree of suspense and efficiency that are becoming all too rare in the mainstream.

Daniel Goldhaber makes the most of potential complications at the pipeline site: a fraying belt, unexpected visitors, a bloody injury that might leave DNA. These are the sort of tactile details on which heist films thrive.

Discussions of the 2021 book “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” inevitably note that it does not really contain instructions for blowing up a pipeline, although its author, Andreas Malm, a Swedish academic who has pressed for radical action on the climate crisis, hardly opposes the idea. He argues that the status quo has grown so dire that activists would be foolish not to turn to sabotage, and that peaceful protest alone is unlikely to achieve results quickly enough.

Movies, though, are more of a show-don’t-tell medium, so the screen version of “How to Blow Up a Pipeline,” directed by Goldhaber (“Cam”), turns Malm’s ideas into the basis for a propulsive heist thriller. Instead of busting into a vault or a museum, the characters conspire to commit an incendiary act that will wreak havoc on oil prices.

Is the film itself, by having heroes some might call eco-terrorists, playing with fire? It certainly has the veneer of being daring. Then again, given the imagination that movies routinely apply to crimes of all sorts, it scarcely seems fair to object to the depiction just because the target is novel or has real-world implications.

Review of the film in the San Francisco Chronicle 4.7.2023

Whether or not it convinces you that eco-terrorism is the way to fight climate change, “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” is masterfully entertaining propaganda.

While the ethics of what they’re doing gets a bare minimum of lip service, don’t expect too much moral soul-searching on any of their parts.

These activists are either certain of the cause’s righteousness, jacked up on the thrill of doing damage, or a combination of both. Despite that, they’re full-bodied personalities for the most part. If our mad world has taught us anything, it’s that true believers are as human as anyone else, and this movie takes that to heart.

Shot with a gritty immediacy on 16mm film (cinematographer Tehillah De Castro has done notable Bruno Mars and Olivia Rodrigo videos) and energized by Gavin Brivik’s electro-percussive score, “Pipeline” applies styles and attitudes from rebellious 1960s and ’70s films to contemporary concerns. Most effectively, the movie is true to that era’s commitment to credible onscreen behavior. 

These people seem real, even if their primary motivations are ideological.

Perhaps more than they intended to, Daniel Goldhaber and the actors make the political personal. That’s a triumph of craft over appetites for destruction.