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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'How To Blow Up A Pipeline' Review: Things Go Boom In This Intense Eco-Thriller

Forrest Goodluck on his knees in snow with an oil refinery in the background

Just because you've now heard of this movie, you're without a doubt already on some kind of government watchlist. But you know what? I appreciate the commitment to the bit that the filmmakers clearly have in that sense. Good on you. Directed by Daniel Goldhaber and written by one of its stars Ariela Barer, Jordan Sjol and Goldhaber, ecocentric thriller How To Blow Up A Pipeline is based on Andreas Malm's nonfiction book of the same name. We follow a group of young activists who convene in Texas to blow up oil pipelines in order to portray sabotage as a powerful method to bring attention to climate change.

The group consists of Michael (Forrest Goodluck), Xochitl (Barer), Theo (Sasha Lane), Alisha (Jayme Lawson), Shawn (Marcus Scribner), Dwayne (Jake Weary), Logan (Lukas Gage) and Rowan (Kristine Froseth).

Goldhaber, Barer and Sjol have found a really fascinating way to tackle thriller as a genre and comment on the anxiety about future that zoomers and millennials have by dramatising mostly ethical and thought-provoking questions. The title can be read both as a question and call to action, instantly involving the viewer in what is essentially terrorism but perhaps for a good cause — though that might also be a personal point of view, I must admit. Goldhaber and editor Daniel Garber are on a mission to keep the multiple perspectives constantly moving, shifting between past and present to show how this group came together from different states around the country to do something radical. Smart writing balances their different personalities and gives them reasons to take a risk for the greater good.

Some of the specific character decisions that create those personalities don't always work or give actors, who are all solid, a whole lot to work with but it all works well enough in the bigger picture. Fortunately the tremendous tension, elevated by composer Gavin Brivik's score driven by industrial percussion and ferocious synths, fills those spaces when needed. The themes, music and sound come together to announce the film as a symphonic warning, an explosion that is too big to ignore or too elaborate to look away from.

There's only one outlier as far as scenes go, that being a scene involving Logan and Rowan's trespassing efforts, what leads to them and ''plot twists'' that come after them. It's a sequence of disorder that feels like a producer's note on a script, demanding shifts and an unnecessary conflict when the act itself is already morally demanding. It also breaks down Goldhaber's visual language with amateurish blocking, acting, photography (by Tehillah De Castro who's otherwise also doing solid work) and editing which doesn't make any sense. That kind of chaos doesn't really have a place in a movie that has a vision and is so controlled; you can leave the chaos for the aftermath.

Smileys: Premise, screenplay, score

Frowneys: One terrible scene

This place about to blow, oh.


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