In the opening minutes of this taut and timely thriller, a young woman punctures the tires of an SUV, leaving behind a note that bluntly explains, “If the law will not punish you, we will.” The woman is Xochitl (Ariela Barer), a climate-change activist who, dissatisfied by the minuscule gains being made in her fight against the climate crisis, has turned to sabotage. Before long, her radical resolve leads her to spearhead a crew of friends, lovers and strangers, each with a hard-luck story of their own, on a daring mission to blow up a West Texas pipeline.
Inspired by Andreas Malm’s controversial 2021 non-fiction treatise of the same name, director Daniel Goldhaber, writing with Barer and Jordan Sjol, judiciously deploys the grammar of a heist film to put Malm’s provocative theory into practice. Cannily cut by Daniel Garber, the film methodically observes each stage of this daredevil operation, while frequently shifting back and forth in time and place through a series of intimate character portraits and finely tuned turnabouts that are in themselves minor marvels of narrative economy. Propulsively scored by Gavin Brivik, and nimbly accruing an arresting, suspenseful momentum worthy of Henri-Georges Clouzot or William Friedkin (pick your preferred blasting agent set piece), HOW TO BLOW UP A PIPELINE barrels towards an explosive finale. (Synopsis adapted from the Toronto International Film Festival.)
“Goldhaber masterfully uses flashbacks to establish this cast of rebels, each one focusing on a specific character or two, revealing just enough about their personal stake in these issues. Editor Daniel Garber makes expert cuts, weaving in the past to create tension in the present. The film’s score — reminiscent of the pulsing ’80s synth sound resurrected by recent films like DRIVE and MANDY — transports us to a time when thrillers were more carefully constructed.” -—Jourdain Searles, The Playlist “An incendiary, ticking-clock thriller about a group of self-styled insurgents with echoes of Kelly Reichardt's NIGHT MOVES and Bertrand Bonello's NOCTURAMA.” —Adam Nayman, The Ringer “The ideas it smuggles into what is essentially a genre film represent a boldness that exceeds most any American production of the last decade. With its strong character work that gets interwoven with a striking story of sabotage, HOW TO BLOW UP A PIPELINE is a riveting tapestry of the plight facing the modern climate justice movement.” —Chase Hutchinson, Collider