Release Date – 21st April 2023, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 44 minutes, Director – Daniel Goldhaber
A group of environmental activists plan to blow up a pipeline of a major oil refinery, some to make a statement others to act out personal revenge.
Perhaps the biggest asset held within How To Blow Up A Pipeline is the fact that the characters are the centre of it are flawed. The group of environmental activists aren’t gleaming heroes, nor are they overdone stereotypes of a political viewpoint. Instead, we see through individual flashbacks the reasons for their getting involved in the scheme which acts as the core of the film. Some wanting to properly make a difference and cause disruption because of climate change, others because their lives and health have been affected by living nearby to an oil refinery. It’s through these flashbacks that we see more of their flaws, bringing about more of a naturalistic feel to the proceedings and further engaging you in each moment.
The central events are those concerned with the actual idea of blowing up a pipeline. Bit by bit we see the group working on explosives, digging spots to hide barrels and dealing with the landscape around them. There’s an unspecified tension to a number of moments as things begin to go slightly wrong. The feeling calls back to Bart Layton’s brilliant American Animals as something that has clearly been so specifically planned with attention to every detail that if it goes any differently chaos might ensue. When dealing with explosives there’s an extra sense of jeopardy.
As the tension builds with each development it still feels uncertain as to whether it’s for the characters (some of them strangers scattered across America, some meeting for the first time in the middle of the Texan desert) at the centre of the piece, the plan itself or anyone who might be nearby (even if the landscape does seem to be almost entirely empty apart from one or two small structures, including the pipeline). When we reach flashbacks, some of which are excellently (and cruelly) cut into sustaining suspense, things are well timed and placed so as to not distract from the main set of events, or cause you to forget them, and in general move along rather well. Even the third act knows not to draw things out for the most part.
There’s an engaging piece of work within How To Blow Up A Pipeline. It brings you in to the events and adds details through the flaws and personal backstories of the ensemble acting out the plot. They know what they’re doing, there are worries about it – the film doesn’t hesitate to discuss the character’s views on this as terrorism – and while some may be somewhat hesitant there are others who are simply angry and clearly driven by that, perhaps not always in the best possible way for themselves. The film is undeniably political, but it feels as if personal politics don’t frequently dominate the direction things take as there is discussion as to whether this is the right thing to do and indeed the film doesn’t condone all the behaviour on display (again, it acknowledges and finds strength in the fact that these are flawed figures). It adds to the natural feel which is present throughout and makes for a more engaging, and tense, piece of work. Perhaps sometimes helped by the fact that you don’t always know, at least in the opening stages, who or what the tension is for.
Tense and largely well-paced How To Blow Up A Pipeline’s biggest success is in depicting its characters as flawed. Bringing in more naturalism and believability it doesn’t resort to heavy cliché at either end of the political scale and instead all helping to add to the occasional tension throughout.