Movie Review: 'How to Blow Up a Pipeline'

John Thomas

When one has something important to say and no one is listening, one usually raises one’s voice. If one still receives no response, one has to consider a plan B.

For Xochitl (Ariel Barer) to call attention to her environmental concerns, her first act of deviance/sabotage is to slash two tires on a large SUV. She also leaves a flyer on the windshield describing the devastating effects climate change is having on the environment including what needs to be done to prevent further damage.

Returning to her home in a highly polluted neighborhood in Long Beach, Calif., she finds her mother struggling to survive a rogue heat wave plaguing their toxic beach community. Her mother doesn’t survive.

Also, resulting from living in the same environment, is Xochitl’s best friend Theo (Sasha Lane) recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. The two young women convince their friend Alisha (Jayme Lawson) to join their protest efforts. They want to devise a more radical environmental awareness action plan.

Another friend with similar inclinations introduces them to Dwayne (Jake Weary), a blue-collar Texan. Dwayne and his pregnant wife have been evicted from their ancestral home by an oil company which, citing eminent domain, plans to run a pipeline across Dwayne’s former property. The newly formed team recruits a Native American from North Dakota who happens to be a self-taught explosive’s expert. He also has a history of fighting with oil rig workers and their companies.

Two more radical thinkers join the team to make it complete. With their shared vision of calling attention to the devastating effects of climate change, the eight begin to create an action plan - blow up something and disrupt the economy. The plan is to place homemade explosives along an oil pipeline and then ignite them.

The oil company will have to shut down its operation, which will then create an oil shortage, driving up the global cost of oil. Dwayne suggests an unguarded section of the pipeline that runs through a portion of his formerly owned land. He is familiar with the area and knows the best place to do the most damage.

The group moves into a nearby abandoned shack, collects supplies and begins manufacturing explosives. They also commence digging up sections of the pipeline. This project does not move forward as easily as had been expected, however.

Alcohol becomes a distraction for them, Alisha’s leg is broken when a barrel of explosives falls on it, the bomb expert accidentally detonates an explosive charge during preparations, and an oil company surveillance drone begins monitoring their activities. Wanting to prevent local pollution when the pipeline explodes, two team members are entrusted to shutting off valves on either side of the proposed break. While performing this task the couple have a surprise encounter with members of the oil company’s security team. The couple are able to close the valves and evade the security persons. It’s boom time!

Directed by Daniel Goldhaber (credits: Cam, Bad Kid), “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” runs 100 minutes and is a “should see” for a film that leaves viewers with questions of what is right or wrong, what is good or bad and is there any middle ground. Based on Andreas Malm’s nonfiction book of the same name.

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