Based upon the 2021 book by Andreas Malm, How to Blow Up a Pipeline is a different type of adaptation – instead of directly adapting the book, that doesn’t have any narrative or characters within it, it injects a fictional scenario in which various types of people band together in West Texas to sabotage an oil pipeline. The group here is vastly diverse in both their backgrounds and motivations for what they’re doing – and the film never shies away from these tricky conversations about what motivates them as people. It’s this balance of a genuinely tense, unnerving mission that they’re on intercut with ethical discussions about the ecosystem, climate change, class, wealth, etc. that make How to Blow Up a Pipeline such a fascinating and effective film to watch.
The film begins with a bang as these characters nearly immediately assemble in Texas to disrupt the oil pipeline they’ve determined would be the most effective to blow up. At the start, you’re given very little insight into what their motivations are aside from seeing a majority of them working thankless jobs, stuck at school, or just generally in rough/unsatisfactory living situations. There is such an authentic, working class feel that this film absolutely nails and it makes all of these characters feel so familiar from the get-go. It’s only as the film goes on that we begin to learn about the specifics of why each individual character has decided to take action, and what it individually means to each of them.
This unique narrative structure of inter-cutting the background and motivations for the characters after they’ve already begun the process of building the bombs and tracking the pipeline makes for such an effective and well-rounded story that feels unlike anything I’ve seen in quite some time. Sure, there are moments where it feels almost like a Steven Soderbergh film and it also has shades of Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves at times – but director Daniel Goldhaber and his co-writers Ariela Barer (who stars and is excellent in the film) and Jordan Sjol have crafted a film that extends past Malm’s novel and completely makes it its own thing, with its own ideas and conversations. I enjoyed Goldhaber’s previous film Cam and thought it showed a lot of potential for him as a director, but this is simply on another level in terms of craft and design.
A lot of credit is also due to the absolutely exceptional editing from editor Daniel Garber. The film is exactly 104-minutes long, but it feels as if it is genuinely about half an hour due to how precisely paced and efficient it is. I can’t exclaim enough how nice it is to see a film waste absolutely no time whatsoever; where it truly feels like everything you’re watching was absolutely essential to what you had to see and like there was never a moment wasted. This is absolutely one of the most efficiently paced, edited, and directed films I’ve seen in quite some time.
As previously stated, Goldhaber and co. take Malm’s book with his ideals and conversations and inject it into the narrative and even go beyond what was introduced in the book. One of the absolute best things about the film is how it never really has easy answers or feels like it’s taking the easy way out with such an important discussion; it never feels like a cheap romanticization of activism. Every character and situation feels like it’s handled with such nuance and care – it truly is both a riveting thriller and a fascinating look at modern American and the working class’s response to dealing with an environmental issue they are not at all responsible for.
This is already one of the best films of the year, and will spark the best kinds of conversations.