THE STORY – With the climate crisis at a point of no return, a group of environmental activists come up with a daring plan to make their voices heard and disrupt an oil pipeline.
THE CAST – Ariela Barer, Kristine Froseth, Lukas Gage, Forrest Goodluck, Sasha Lane, Jayme Lawson, Marcus Scribner, Jake Weary & Irene Bedard
THE TEAM – Daniel Goldhaber (Director/Writer), Ariela Barer & Jordan Sjol (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 104 Minutes
There’s a certain powerlessness that can be overwhelming when observing the current state of the world. So many events trigger such states of helplessness, but witnessing the continued decimation of the environment has been a constant source of worrying trauma. Art has always been a landscape to vocalize anxieties and manifest a catharsis. As many are trapped on the sidelines and feel paralyzed in creating effective interventions, some strong depictions can come around and provide great relief. “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” is absolutely interested in the climate crisis that has touched every living being on this earth. It offers a tense and thrilling illustration that sometimes only plays on the surface but is riveting nonetheless.
As the title would heavily suggest, the film centers around a group of activists who are determined to make a difference in the fight against climate change and the corporate interests that are responsible for such tragedy. When the traditional means of incremental change prove too ineffective for these individuals, they hatch a plan to attack an oil pipeline in a barren area of West Texas in the hopes of sending a powerful political message. The de facto ringleader Xochitl (Ariela Barer), recently lost her mother to a fatal heatwave and is determined to bring about action. Her friend Theo (Sasha Lane) joins as well since living near the chemical plants has led to her diagnosis of terminal cancer. They recruit a host of other participants who the righteousness of the cause has brought together, and the danger of this task only increases as they arrive closer to their destination.
Daniel Goldhaber keenly understands how the thriller-like narrative structure is suitable for drawing one into this intriguing setting. The grainy cinematography, precise editing, and low, pulsating score evoke the atmosphere of an epic heist. The participants are drawn in one by one due to their special skillset in the hopes of achieving a grandiose and elaborate plan. All the while, the human toll at stake is never made out to be insignificant, either. The industrial buildings loom over ominously in the background of the city skylines, emphasizing the ever-present dread surrounding the globe. The barren Texas arenas are an effective contrast but also emphasize the stark nature of where the source of such atrocity originates. Goldhaber crafts an engaging spectacle that keeps one invested in the unfolding mystery and escalating tension.
The filmmaking does a great deal to compensate for a screenplay that isn’t quite as impressive. The bare bones of the story are well-established, and the piece does an admirable job of setting up stakes in an authentic manner. At the same time, the biggest hindrance to becoming a more successful work is the rather hollow characterizations. The ensemble does their best to inhabit roles that never reach too far beneath the surface. The motivations presented are justified within the text but are broad presentations that never fill in the more nuanced perspectives. It is not a large group assembled, but the multiple characters aren’t given much to define themselves beyond basic generalization. For as much as the film can be captivating, the characters themselves are often only a means to deliver the thematic weight, and for that, one can’t help but feel a bit at a distance from how impactful the overall storytelling aspires to be in the end.
Despite the limitations of the material, there are a talented bunch of performers that provide a commendable showcase. Barer, also one of the film’s writers and producers, has a fierce determination in her portrayal that makes for a compelling figure to watch. A similar tone is seen with Lane, to a slightly more muted degree. There are some endearing turns from the likes of Lukas Gage and Kristine Forseth as a bohemian couple with secrets of their own, as well as Jake Weary as the Texan whose gruff personality makes his environmental activism all the more appealing. The standout belongs to Forrest Goodluck as a young Native American filled with angst toward a system poisoning his community. He is prickly yet engrossing simultaneously, and Goodluck provides a powerful screen presence. The only one who unfortunately fails to make much of an impression is Marcus Scribner, who ably plays a more anonymous member of the group with little to define him. Still, he fits well within a capable cast.
“How to Blow Up a Pipeline” certainly hones in on the horrific aura that plagues the everyday world. Finding the combative solution that indulges in both triumph and melancholy is a pleasure to witness. One may feel at arm’s length in connecting with the multiple characters it introduces, which is ultimately a significant aspect that keeps the film from becoming a more profound endeavor. Still, the direction is able to fashion an alluring backdrop in which to build suspense, while the actors provide a great deal of effort to create fascinating portrayals. This is one of many commentaries that speak to the ongoing catastrophes, and while it may not be the most illuminating, it is still an appealing analysis.