Based on the book of the same name, How to Blow Up a Pipeline is certainly going to divide people. That's kind of the point it's trying to make though.
Centered on a group of young activists, the film tells the story of how each member of this team has come to the belief that sabotage is the only means that can beget the change they wish to see in the world. While the book is more theory based, the film puts faces and names to the movement in a practical story.
Majority of the film takes place in West Texas where Xochitl (Ariela Barer) and Shawn (Marcus Scribner) have come up with an idea to blow up two parts of an oil pipeline. This is meant as a powerful demonstration to the oil company, and higher levels of establishment, that climate change needs to be taken seriously and fossil fuel usage reevaluated. In West Texas they meet other members of their team, Michael (Forrest Goodluck), Dwayne (Jake Weary), Alisha (Jayme Lawson), Theo (Sasha Lane), Rowan (Kristine Forseth) and Logan (Lukas Gage). From there they begin to enact their master plan in a meticulously directed film that is one of the best I've seen thus far into the year!
One of the most powerful elements of How to Blow Up a Pipeline is the well crafted exposition of each character. Diving into their beliefs, how they ended up as a part of this team in first place and their motivations behind it all. Some of these characters have motivational overlap but each one is distinctive enough to provide a layer of empathy that connects you to their goal, even if you don't necessarily agree with it. Michael is a young Native American man that lives on a reservation that's been continuously ravaged by oil companies while the Indigenous community is thrown to the wayside. Feeling Michael's rage is imperative to his character and you get an easy view into it as we see him go toe to toe with an oil company worker, getting a black eye and some other bruises in the process. Similarly, Dwayne is a local Texas man that was kicked off of his family's property they've held for generations due to the government enacting eminent domain to construct a new pipeline. Like Michael, Dwayne resorts to more violent measures such as standing at the edge of his property with a shotgun to deter workers from crossing over. I felt as though these two characters had the more compelling motive, and was rooting for them throughout the movie but in reality all of these characters are crafted perfectly.
Director Daniel Goldhaber also utilizes these characters along with the intensity of the film to insert exposition at times of heightened tension, making the film even more intense. The backfire of Michael making the detonator feeds into his backstory, all the while we're not even sure he's still alive. A fraying rope results in an explosive barrel being dropped several feet which then cuts to more background. The constant build up to a dangerous situation and cutting away leads to mouth-watering suspense all while exploring the motivations of each character. It can be difficult to balance so many characters, along with their backstories, but Goldhaber was able to beautifully weave their stories into the ultimate plot of How to Blow Up a Pipeline in an immensely satisfying and mesmerizing way. Eternals could've and should've taken a page out of this book, because that mess is exactly how to not include hours of character exposition.
Not to mention Gavin Brivik's score is top tier thrill-building! It has a subtlety to it that accents the action you're seeing on screen without being distracting. The pace of it ramps up at the precise moment your heart beat elevates and it makes it impossible to look away at any given moment. This film is a perfect example of the marriage between the on screen visuals and the score carrying you along for the ride! Pacing and stylistically this film also resembles more of a heist movie than a classical drama. Of course that helps with the tension, but the back and forth of relaying extra information to the viewer is even more engrossing than I could've expected. As everyone is meeting in West Texas there's a few people that have never met before which is odd when you're relying on each other to not blow everyone up and commit some pretty hefty crimes. Everyone's introductions are explained through character exposition which helps paint a full picture of the relationships within the group. Xochitl and Theo have a much stronger friendship than the others, and Theo and Alisha's combined involvement is absolutely gutting.
Then of course there's the Portland Bonnie and Clyde, Logan and Rowan. Another fantastic instance of intermittent releases of information to the viewer is Rowan's messaging to some mysterious person from her phone. Is she some type of informant? Is she a double-agent? Not to mention the first time you see it happen, she's under a blanket hiding the very act from Logan making you question their relationship. The characters are also a welcome addition of depth to the group, representing modern criticism towards millennial activists. Logan references his family's lawyer early in the film so it's clear he comes from wealth, a stark contrast from his associates. The duo is also constantly distracted from the task at hand either by drugs, drinking, or each other, thematically shadowing the critique of young activists today of jumping from problem to problem without ever seeing something through. In the age of social media expansion and "Tik-Tok attention spans" Logan and Rowan are wonderfully written and seamlessly added into the fray establishing a multidimensional group of activists navigating their predispositions to make a difference.
Altogether this heist styled activism thriller is a stupendous film and I definitely need another watch! This is one of those films where you glean more from the depths with every rewatch, which I'm excited for. If you're not only in the mood for a great film, but one that also challenges your thinking, then How to Blow Up a Pipeline is so up your alley you might be living within it. Which is why it's inspiration from the source material is so wonderful. It makes you think, might make you angry, and will absolutely have a different result, likely divisive, between people. I'd say that is exactly the point of the film, as a perfect conversation starter with some possible contention. I'm excited for what Goldhaber does next, and I'm also excited for when we finally get a Lukas Gage role that's at least a little different from his other roles. I've enjoyed his roles in You, Euphoria, and The White Lotus but each of these are eerily similar characters in attitude and action. Euphoria is the outlier here but I think he gives great energy on screen, is something of a wild card, and I'd love to see more!
I've Googled this movie probably too many times in the past week or so to get showtimes and all the credits on iMDB and what not. I'm assuming my Google presence is now reaching some sort of threshold where looking up How to Blow Up a Pipeline will flag me in some way. So I'll just take a quick moment to say the only pipeline I know how to blow up is part porcelain and can only be done after a visit to Taco Bell. To the FBI guy on my phone, we're good my man, I'll just go back to my regularly scheduled corgi videos and Bob Ross tutorials.
However, from the movie I think there's one thing I did figure out. When it comes to putting together something that can blow everyone to smithereens, you need a certain level of surgical precision. I think Christopher Nolan's highly anticipated Oppenheimer might reflect this same sentiment. Therefore it only made sense for me to find some surgical precision out in the wild to better appreciate this fine film.
So of course I found myself Surgical Precision by Wiley Roots Brewing Company! This form of Surgical Precision is an insanely decadent imperial stout brewed with coffee, cinnamon, maple, honey and marshmallow just to really give you a sweet tooth. It is outrageously thick, so thick you might think to start chewing as you drink it, and it's certainly full of a boozy after taste due to its heavy 10.3% ABV. But the main calling card of this beer is the overflowing river of sweetness rushing to your taste buds. Flavors of cinnamon and maple are at the forefront of the taste profile while the aroma mixes cinnamon, honey and coffee into a sensory sweetness that tickles your nose.
While this imperial stout is delicious and decadent as can be, I can't say I was a huge fan of it. The flavors felt unbalanced and the sour finish as the sharp cinnamon rounded the bases and the boozy strength came up to the plate was out of place and diminished the sweeter flavors and aromas. I definitely appreciate the home run mentality of Wiley Roots and am looking forward to trying more of their beer but this Surgical Precision imperial stout was a bit of whiff for me.