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September 12, 2023

How to Blow Up a Pipeline (Movie Review)

When a college student named Xochitl cuts the tires on an SUV in front of a pipeline construction site, she’s sending a message: We need to do more.

Directed and co-written by Daniel Goldhaber (Cam) with Ariela Barer and Jordan Sjol, How to Blow Up a Pipeline is an adaptation of the 2021 book by environmental activist Andreas Malm. The film takes his arguments — that climate change is happening faster than anticipated; pacifist protests have failed to stop the damage; and that property destruction as a last resort is justifiable if it’s targeted and careful not to hurt people — and transforms them into a heist thriller that aims to energize its message with gripping suspense and a ticking-tock pace.

In the movie, a disparate group of friends, family and acquaintances from across the country radicalizes around their shared concern, with a plan to disrupt the system by blowing up one oil pipeline in West Texas. Their mission is complicated by a variety of factors, including a distracted and inebriated Michael who accidentally detonates a primer charge during preparation, the arrival of armed company property inspectors and the fact that their entire operation is going to rely on a dozen things going exactly right.

It’s hard to argue with the ideas behind the film, and Goldhaber and his team succeed in making them compelling enough that you might just walk out of the theater wanting to do more than simply turn off your lights. But the movie feels a bit like a political propaganda piece, and there’s a sense that the filmmakers felt compelled — either by the Hollywood machine or by their own peremptory impulses — to sand down some of its edges a bit.