Review: How to Blow Up a Pipeline


It’s 2023 and the effects of climate change are everywhere. It’s April and already 88 degrees in New Jersey. While people argue over the results of using reusable straws, single-use plastics, and other items integrated into modern life, corporations and entities like the US Military wreck our environment at a rate that is almost entirely incomprehensible to us as individuals.

And yet, what can be done? Can we, the people, do anything other than use reusable water bottles when establishments above most of our heads are almost solely responsible for the climate crisis? How to Blow Up a Pipeline attempts to answer this question and results in one of the most thrilling and humanistic films of the year (so far, at least).

How To Blow Up A Pipeline - Official Trailer - In Theaters April 7

How to Blow Up a Pipeline
Director: Daniel Goldhaber

Release Date: April 7
Rating: R

How to Blow Up a Pipeline takes the anger and defeat of an entire generation and turns it into something tangible. Growing up as a member of Gen Z means, to me at least, that each generation before squandered their chance to truly do something about the destruction of our only home. As the ultra-rich plan to colonize outer space and leave the rest of the population to die, young people have been forced to come to terms with the very likely destruction of the human race and all living things on Earth. How to Blow Up a Pipeline grapples with this rage and depression, proving that these feelings can (and should) be weaponized to save our planet.

The film starts by showing each member of the project as they ready themselves to head to Texas. Their goal is to blow up a pipeline, letting corporations (and the general public) know that there are people willing to commit acts of grand-scale sabotage to increase demand for renewable energy. Throughout the film, which is rather concise at barely over an hour and a half, each member of the project gets a flashback where their reasoning for joining the group is shown.

For Theo (Sasha Lane) and Xochitl (Ariela Barer), their health and the safety of their families have been compromised by deadly pollution. Others, like Theo’s girlfriend Alisha (Jayme Lawson), are there mainly to support the rest of the group. The varying reasons point to a significant idea about climate change: that race, class, and socio-economic positions will determine how climate change affects people.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline Alisha and Theo embrace.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline. NEON.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline is loosely based on a nonfiction book by Andreas Malm. The book is less of a guideline for committing acts of sabotage than it is a call to action and rethinking the way that environmentalists can move away from broad, non-violent actions. After all, aren’t human lives more valuable than company property? This is a core idea of the film, especially as some of the characters struggle with the consequences of their actions.

One of the film’s biggest strengths is its understanding of collective action. From the behind-the-scenes making of How to Blow Up a Pipeline – which consisted of a collective group writing and making the film – to the notion that everyone in their group has a purpose and is necessary to the final act of self-defense, the film’s heist reflects divisions of labor necessary in organized action. Another strength of the film is the varying backgrounds of the characters. While the majority of them have a material reason for joining an act of domestic terrorism that could see them in jail, a few of them just believe in the cause enough to potentially die for it.

One of the most interesting, yet necessary, characters is Dwayne (Jake Weary). A working-class Texan who was kicked off his land by the (fictional) oil company, Dwayne represents how working-class people in regions like the South and Appalachia are facing the effects of climate change faster than their Northern counterparts. Regardless of political backgrounds (which are hinted at but not made explicit), How to Blow Up A Pipeline posits that when our material lives are threatened by the climate crisis and its offenders, people need to join together to save our world.

Xochitl, Alisha, Theo, Dwayne and Shawn in front of their truck.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline. NEON.

There are a couple of things that I wish were stronger about How to Blow Up a Pipeline. I thought Alisha’s character was particularly interesting, especially as she was the most hesitant to follow through with their plan. But by the end of the film, I wish there was more of her and her unique perspective as someone who joined so doubtfully.

Also, while I can understand that the film doesn’t necessarily want to inspire copycats, I think limiting the planning stage and coordination of the group before they all meet seems to give How to Blow Up a Pipeline a less realistic edge, making their act of self-defense harder to grasp in the material world. The film wants to prove the urgency of the climate crisis, and it certainly does, but without inspiring real action or showing real ways that people can meet and coordinate, the film loses some ground.

Honestly, I loved How to Blow Up a Pipeline. The sense of urgency the film radiates reflects fears I constantly feel while promising that change is indeed possible. Radical ideas need a radical start, and as the film discusses, empathy is one of the most important tools for organizers and activists across the world. Thankfully, young people are certainly stepping up to the plate.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline is now playing in theaters.




How to Blow Up a Pipeline is a rallying call to action, packaged in a tense heist film.

Sophia Schrock
Sophia (they/them) currently lives in Jersey City, NJ. They are passionate about queer cinema, horror, anything gothic, and their beloved cat Salem.