One movie dares ask: are today’s ecoterrorists tomorrow’s heroes?

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo

How to Blow Up a Pipeline
Opens April 14
 4 out of 5

You know a movie is worth its salt when it makes all the right people angry. Scott Moe would probably scream to the high heaven about this film if he had any interest in anything but antagonizing the federal government and keeping his car-related misadventures from the public.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline is the fictionalized adaptation of the book of the same name by human ecology professor Andreas Malm. The publication caused minor pearl clutching because it argued that, given the ineffectiveness of climate activism, sabotage is a morally justifiable escalation. Malm believes the ruling class will never address global warming in an impactful way, leaving true climate advocates with no other choice but choose strategic, targeted violence. The author is also critical of doom-sayers, as he believes fatalism and despair are used as an excuse to do nothing.

The film adaptation is likely to amplify Malm’s argument times 1,000: the movie is as bold as the book and doesn’t even pretend it cares about the other side of the argument. There’s a brief discussion about whether the would-be perpetrators qualify as ecoterrorists: “Yup”, everybody agrees, then moves on to more pressing issues.

But I’m jumping ahead. The dramatization of How to Blow Up a Pipeline revolves around eight young people of different backgrounds who come together to… you know. These are students, victims of pollution side-effects, disgruntled workers, screw-ups who fancy themselves crusaders. All of them, with excellent reasons to stick it to the man.

In the mold of frothier heist movies (Ocean’s Eleven often comes to mind), How to Blow Up a Pipeline follows the traditional structure of putting the band together, painstaking planning, and execution teetering on catastrophic failure. But director Daniel Goldhaber does something more interesting with these beats: he starts on the execution and, as the plan unfolds, introduces flashbacks to explain a section of the scheme or to shed light on the characters’ drive, normally at climatic points of the narrative. True to the subgenre, Goldhaber keeps some details in the dark that makes the resolution particularly twisty.

However, unlike the Ocean’s movies, there are stakes beyond shady crooks getting richer at expense of shadier criminals. The intention is to interrupt the flow of oil in an impactful but bloodless way, causing an immediate effect on the economy and providing a blueprint for like-minded individuals. The film is almost didactic in its depiction of how to achieve this, from the type of explosive to the most significant yet unguarded portion of an oil duct. You can’t help but wonder if this information should be so easily available (it’s all on the Internet).

If there’s a weak spot in How to Blow Up a Pipeline, it’s character depth: there isn’t much. Only motivations. That’s all right. A superb cast of up-and-comers — Sasha Lane (American Honey), Forrest Goodluck (Blood Quantum), Kristine Froseth (The Assistant), and Lukas Gage (You) among them — break through stereotypes to deliver enough for you to care.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline is a rare opportunity in which message and delivery are equally strong. A must-see. ■