‘How to Blow Up a Pipeline’ Review: A Heist Film for the Climate Crisis

This film keeps the viewer constantly on edge in its heist-like depiction of radical action. 


Taken from the theoretical book of the same name, How to Blow Up a Pipeline’s title is self-explanatory, a promise of what is to come. While discussing the film at TIFF, director Daniel Goldhaber explained that he took inspiration from the self-explanatory titling of Robert Bresson’s 1956 film, A Man Escaped. The title makes it so that we know what is bound to happen, and yet the film is structured with a tense precision that makes it hard to ever fully settle; we are always on edge. 

How to Blow Up a Pipeline is a movie about radical action packaged in the tropes and structure of a heist film. It’s a narrative film that essentially demonstrates the step-by-step process of destroying an oil pipeline while interweaving the backstories of the seven activists who have decided to take part in this bombing.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline presents an alternate route of sorts, an example of political action that is not “meant” to happen within our current structure. It suggests that what is “meant” to happen is, at this critical juncture, essentially a collection of well-meaning neoliberal dead ends. With groups stuck in bureaucratic flows, people losing land to law enforcement red tape, and impoverished families being forced to live in health hazardous housing, Pipeline suggests that, instead, perhaps we might turn to action outside of the socially palatable, ineffective pathways of activism that are currently officially offered.

The backstories of our collection of characters feel key to the messaging and conversations that How to Blow Up a Pipeline will inevitably open up. While all seven members have the same broad goal, they come from very different backgrounds, with very different ideals guiding their mission to battle the climate crisis. 

Michael (Forrest Goodluck) is stern and militant, spending his time making how-tos on explosive-making for like-minded radicals on TikTok, while the young, punk-rock couple Logan (Lukas Gage) and Rowan (Kristine Froseth) are, instead, giddy anarchists, so delighted by the work they are doing that it occasionally turns them on sexually. Other members are living under the shadow of deadly health prognoses, and still others under risk of life in jail. 

These differences in approach highlight a key tenet to consider if one is to start taking more radical action: our individual ideals and motivations may not be the same point-by-point, but one must offer themselves and their skill sets to the cause with an acceptance that there will be different perspectives to reckon with for the sake of a greater movement. To get shit done and involve oneself meaningfully, in the case of the work done in Pipeline, simultaneously requires sacrifice, love for the greater good, and a little ego — something acknowledged by actress Ariela Barer, who plays Xochitl and notes that an “all-consuming ego” is required to “put [oneself] at the center of a plan like this.” 

The flashy epilogue of How to Blow Up a Pipeline is a fantasy, as close to an invitation to join in as you can risk in such a sharp little film. Maybe you’ll watch this and get ready to kick up a bit of a fuss, too — an actual one, not just something meandering and symbolic. And if you’re on a totally different side entirely, How to Blow Up a Pipeline suggests that maybe you should consider the potential incoming cultural tide change.

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