Make no mistake, How To Blow Up a Pipeline is a polemic – a powerful call to environmental action, so naked I occasionally find myself wondering how the film’s makers ever managed to sneak this onto the screens of a multiplex. Perhaps it’s because it comes cunningly disguised an a nail-biting thriller, constantly keeping the viewer on edge as a bunch of ramshackle eco warriors tinker clumsily with potentially deadly explosives as they draw up their plans to… well, the clue’s in the title.
The protagonists of the story each have their own reasons for hating the oil industry so see their actions not as terrorism, but as self defence. Michael (Forrest Goodluck) is a native Americans, who’s endured years of being pushed around by the government and has grown tired of pursuing more gentle approaches to protest. Theo (Sasha Lane) is suffering from incurable leukaemia, caused by living in proximity to an oil refinery, while her partner, Alisha (Jayme Lawson) is prepared to go to any lengths to help Theo achieve retribution. Good ol’ boy, Dwayne (Jake Weary), has seen the land his family has farmed for generations stolen by the oil industry with no compensation offered, while Shawn (Marcus Scribner) and Xochitl (Ariela Barer) are grimly determined to make a change at any cost.
And what of young couple, Rowan (Kristine Froseth) and Logan (Lucas Gage, looking uncannily like a young Hugh Grant)? Who is Rowan covertly sending text messages to? And does Logan even know she’s doing it?
Co-written by Barer and based on a book by Andreas Malm, the film is tautly directed by Daniel Goldhaber and has a devastating habit of cutting away from scenes of high anxiety to insightful flashbacks, depicting each characters’ first steps on their journey to where they are today. And while you sometimes think you know exactly where all this is headed, there’s a cleverly assembled final twist that few viewers will see coming.
The film’s ecological message comes across loud and clear and it’s hard to argue with the grit and determination of these disparate characters who come together to pursue a common goal. The ensemble cast all deliver strong performances and the propulsive narrative of the story has me thoroughly gripped, right up to its final frames.
Does a pipeline suffer its titular fate? You’ll have to watch the film to find out.