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How to Blow Up a Pipeline

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Photograph: Vertigo Releasing

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Andreas Malm’s provocatively-titled eco-manifesto inspires a fiercely compelling thriller

This is not the film anyone who has read the book on which How to Blow Up a Pipeline is based – and everyone should, it’s dynamite – will be expecting, no more than Swedish writer Andreas Malm’s provocatively-titled eco-manifesto was a how-to handbook for building bombs.

The book was inspired by the author’s own history of activism (letting down the tyres of polluting SUVs in Malmo) and fascinated by Lanchester’s Paradox: if climate change is such an existential threat, why is destruction of property anathema to activists? It cited the examples of the Suffragettes, American Civil Rights, the Anti-Apartheid movement, and even Indian independence to deflate the fallacy that historic changes in social justice were accomplished by non-violent means alone. Destruction of property – the fossil fuel industry’s critical infrastructure – was not only an option in the war against climate change, Malm argued, but the only option. Incremental change would damn the world to catastrophe.

It seems tailor-made for a documentary, but director Daniel Goldhaber boldly channels the book’s themes into a kind of robbery-less heist thriller with the highest imaginable stakes – just as his outstanding debut, 2018’s Cam, used the horror genre to explore wider issues, such as the primacy of online identities over our authentic selves.

The bomb-setting scenes are as nail-biting as cinema’s best bomb disposals

In How to Blow Up a Pipeline, a diverse young cast, including American Honey star Sasha Lane, Lukas Gage (Euphoria), Forrest Goodluck, Jayme Lawson (the mayor in The Batman) and black-ish’s Marcus Scribner, play a group of ideologically-driven eco-activists – or, if you’re on the other side of the trenches, ‘eco-terrorists’ – who, inspired by Malm’s book (because meta is better) set off for a Texas oil refinery to turn theory into praxis. Along the way, flashbacks sketch in the backstory of each of the characters, and it’s a testimony to Goldhaber’s skill – and composer Gavin Brivik’s propulsive score – that the cut-up chronology doesn’t let the air out of the film’s narrative tyres.

In favouring the dramatic over the didactic, Goldhaber arguably buries the themes of the source text a little too deeply, resulting in a film that isn’t quite the call to action it might have been. Still, its message resonates – and its bomb-setting scenes are as nail-biting as cinema’s best bomb disposals.

In UK cinemas Apr 21.

David Hughes
Written by
David Hughes

Cast and crew

  • Director:Daniel Goldhaber
  • Screenwriter:Daniel Goldhaber, Ariela Barer, Jordan Sjol
  • Cast:
    • Ariela Barer
    • Sasha Lane
    • Forrest Goodluck
    • Lukas Gage
    • Kristine Froseth
    • Marcus Scribner
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