Written and directed by Daniel Goldhaber, co-written by Jordan Sjol and lead actress Ariela Barer, a crew of young environmental activists execute a daring mission to sabotage an oil pipeline. Also starring: Kristine Froseth, Lukas Gage, Forrest Goodluck, Sasha Lane, Jayme Lawson, Marcus Scribner, Jake Weary, Irene Bedard and Olive Jane Lorraine.
One of the things that’s most surprising about How to Blow Up a Pipeline is that while its characters and their motivations are full of rage, frustration and a thirst for justice, none of that translates into Daniel Goldhaber’s directorial style. The tone is surprisingly even, the cinematography by Tehillah De Castro is light and calm, the natural outdoor settings for much of the film doesn’t quite match with the story’s furious activism. When that’s then paired with a slow pacing and progression, it feels as though there’s something amiss. The themes and aesthetic are at odds with one another, pushing it towards drama rather than embracing its thriller and crime roots.
It’s incredibly unfortunate as its story is especially relevant, younger generations are constantly railing against the doomed future which has been placed in front of them, and the harmful oblivious tact taken by multiple governments. It picks a good structure in bringing these characters together but also giving them individual introductions. However, that structure doesn’t feel like it plays with the right ratio, a lot of those introductions come in too late, when it would have been great to get to know them better earlier on. Although, its biggest weakness is how it plays out its ending, it’s clever and well chosen which makes it frustrating because they left the reveal so late in the game. It feels as though if fragments of it had been more closely woven throughout the story rather than left until the last moment, it would have given it a great boost in intensity and suspense.
On the other hand, its biggest strength is the performances because they put together a great ensemble. Each portrayal has individual qualities but they also come together to create an effective and well-oiled team. While it is a film that’s undoubtedly about the whole and not the singular parts, there are a few performances that stand slightly above the rest. Particularly Jayme Lawson, whose Alisha is a voice of reason and logic, as well as bringing a superb dose of love, resilience and depth. It’s also a good reminder that not enough people have seen her fantastic debut in Farewell Amor, which was followed up by roles in The Batman, The Woman King, Till and playing a young Michelle Obama, she’s one to watch. Co-writer Ariela Barer also pushes a sliver ahead with an emotionally driven, radical and intelligent portrayal of Xochitl.
How to Blow Up a Pipeline misses the opportunity to capitalise on the furore of its story, to truly to do justice to the uproar and anger in how our planet has been abused. There’s a strong cast at work but they’re fighting against the slow pacing and disappointing progression. It doesn’t quite live up to the edge and darkness Daniel Goldhaber achieved with his feature debut Cam. It has all the right thematic elements but the visual quality lets them down, begging for a more thrilling, furious energy to match its danger and the activist spirit.