HOW TO BLOW UP A PIPELINE
Starring: Ariela Barer, Kristine Froseth, Lukas Gage, Forrest Goodluck, Sasha Lane, Jayme Lawson, Marcus Scribner, Jake Weary, and Irene Bedard
Director: Daniel Goldhaber
Every year, there is an underrated title that makes a name for itself during TIFF that was on relatively no one's radar beforehand. In 2022, that film had to be How to Blow Up a Pipeline. This is a heist film with a personalized feel, not just because of the motives, but the formatting and the way it follows each individual's story. Its grittiness makes it feel like a documentary, and it does an excellent job of building tension. This may have been an under-the-radar film entering the festival, but I think a lot more people are going to know of this film now.
How to Blow Up a Pipeline was one of the best hidden gems I saw at TIFF last year, and it captivated me from the get-go with its engaging premise and tense tone. The characters are very well-written, with each actor playing their part perfectly. They work off each other excellently, which makes it hard for me to pick a standout. But what’s most striking is the film’s daring message: is civil disobedience okay when it comes to the pursuit of environmental justice? It’s something that has stuck with me long after the film’s credits rolled.
I’ve seen a lot of descriptions for How to Blow Up a Pipeline include the word “heist.” While I guess I can see the similarities (ragtag group of people planning an operation), this is decidedly not a heist movie. Whether you believe in the characters’ cause or not, you’re essentially watching a terrorist attack come to fruition. For me, that made it hard to relate to or root for these characters, especially since it takes a very one-sided approach. I appreciate the gritty, almost documentary feel, but overall, this movie just didn’t resonate with me because I don’t support the general message.
There isn’t likely to be a film released this spring that sparks more essential discussion amongst audiences than How to Blow Up a Pipeline. An incendiary thriller from its outset, the film immediately throws the viewer into the thick of a solid ensemble cast as it barrels full speed ahead, daring to posit that civil action does not yield true justice. The structure occasionally works against the film, and I wish the discussions of the central task’s potentially unintended consequences cropped up more, but beyond that and some further understanding of certain characters, there’s little else that doesn’t fully work.
How to Blow Up a Pipeline’s screenplay is riveting, and it explodes with intriguing thoughts on taking matters of justice into your own hands; in this case, as it pertains to the surreal climate crisis we are actually facing. The film is beautifully shot in grainy 16mm, and it has a compelling ensemble cast that makes you feel fully invested in their cause, whether it’s right or wrong. The film’s subject matter is complex and messy, yet it still manages to feel poetic. It’s a lean and gripping indie film that shouldn’t fly under your radar.
This film was reviewed by Nick and Adriano as part of Bitesize Breakdown's coverage of the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.