How To Blow Up A Pipeline is a topical thriller that’s very much of the now: Sydney Film Festival Review

An eco-terrorism thriller where the bombers are the good guys, Daniel Goldhaber‘s How To Blow Up A Pipeline is structured as if it’s playing to a heist movie temperament, but it’s layered with a topical, current commentary that lends the film a young freshness; very much a movie of the “now”.

Relying on ideas realised in Andreas Malm‘s 2021 book of the same name, Goldhaber replaces that author’s impassioned plea for radical action with a literal manifestation of the title, placing a handful of twenty-somethings together as their paths overlap in their bid to build a bomb and detonate it under a major oil line in the deserts of West Texas.

The film’s rag-tag group of activists are all introduced without initial exposition, before, quite effectively, the script – co-written by Goldhaber, Jordan Sjol and lead actress Ariela Barer – utilises a flashback implement to clue us in on just how and why these characters all came to this conclusion; some more willingly than others.

Barer’s Xochitl and Sasha Lane‘s Theo are the seeming main driving force, with the former grieving over the loss of her mother to a heatwave and the latter having terminal cancer from years of growing up near a refinery; to say their actions are emotionally driven would be an understatement.  Dwayne (Jake Weary) wants to fight back for the loss of his land (and the suggestion of his wife’s miscarriage being linked to the surrounding climate also), Michael (Forrest Goodluck), who emerges as the technical brains behind the operation, links his Indigenous heritage who for so long has seen his people’s homes carved up by oil companies, whilst the unpredictable Rowan (Kristine Froseth) and her boyfriend (Lukas Gage) appear voluntarily as activist types, but such is the intensity and intricacy of the script, there appears a greater reason for their involvement.  Theo’s girlfriend, Alisha (Jayme Lawson), is mainly there for moral support – and stands as the film’s voice of reason throughout – whilst Shawn (Marcus Scribner) acts as something of a catalyst in bringing certain otherwise unrelated characters together.

The type of film that feels designed to anger people in both a positive and negative manner, How To Blow Up A Pipeline cleverly frames its story in its Oceans 11-esque temperament in order for the film to entertain first and educate second.  There will be audiences who aren’t necessarily intimately connected to the cause the film is fighting for, so Goldhaber adhering to the beats of a thriller genre allows this important story to reach audiences beyond those passionate about the cause at hand.

With its scrappy, grainy appearance and largely unknown cast (Lane and Gage arguably the most “famous”) How To Blow Up A Pipeline has a lived-in, almost documentary type feel to its narrative expression, which furthers the obvious importance the story holds for its creators.  Whether it’s a film you agree with or not, Goldhaber and co. don’t care as it’s clear this has been designed to disrupt people’s way of thinking; but what a taut thriller it is on its own accord, one that is sure to spark fierce conversation and could serve as an influential medium for generations to come.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

How To Blow Up A Pipeline is screening as part of this year’s Sydney Film Festival, running between June 7th and 18th, 2023.  For more information head to the official SFF page.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.