Saturday, April 15, 2023

How to Blow Up a Pipeline: Movie Review

Quiet, thoughtful, tense thriller.
Ever since Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves, one of my favourite genres has been the ecoterrorism thriller. A quiet thoughtful drama filled with tension and morally gray characters wreaking havoc for the greater good of the planet. And that’s exactly what How to Blow Up a Pipeline is. My most anticipated from last year’s Toronto International Film Festival and it completely lives up to expectations. An incredibly smart and suspenseful drama that weaves a very compelling story.   2023

Directed by: Daniel Goldhaber

Screenplay by: Ariela Barer, Jordan Sjol, and Daniel Goldhaber

Starring: Ariela Barer, Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, Lukas Gage, and Kristine Forseth

Our eco-terrorists slowly make their way to Texas. An old, abandoned cottage in the middle of nowhere at the beginning of winter will be perfect for their headquarters. At first we only know what the title tells us, that they are likely on their way to blowing up a pipeline, and that’s all we need to know. The quietness of the movie and the quietness of the characters is interesting enough on their own that we don’t need any more action right away. (Although I will say quite a few people walked out of my showing so perhaps not enough action for them; except something slow and meditative and you should be able to appreciate it a lot more).

There are eight main characters – all of them are crucial to the story and all of them have something interesting to add. My favourite is Forrest Goodluck as Michael, a reckless loner from a reservation in North Dakota. He’s smart but presumably not highly educated because a lot of what he’s up to looks self-taught and could easily end in disaster. A lot of their pre-action set-up looks to end in disaster, but a highlight of the film is to ease tension by switching to a flashback to get background info on each character. The editing is perfect, switching to introduce a character right as the tension builds right before something may or may not explode. The background sections are long enough to distract from the dissipation of the main action but short enough that all of the main characters remain interesting.

Most of the characters are strangers, so the awkwardness is real especially since the audience knows them about as well as the other characters do, so each seemingly bizarre reaction elicits the same response from the others and from the audience. But the flashback sections will later help understand each character and their motivations. If you’re planning on committing a crime which involves a lot of accomplices, it’s pretty smart to pick random people from around the country most of whom have never even had an online exchange with each other.

The film sets up a few misdirections, one of which comes very early to help with the intrigue and mystery surrounding what exactly their planning. The ending is also highly satisfying. Potential spoiler ahead so please feel free to stop reading here, but I desperately want a sequel. The characters picked to be the fall guys will lead to an absolutely fascinating likely very famous trial, with a handful of other characters scattered around the country each feeling a varying degree of guilt depending on their personality and moral code. This movie is just so good that I want more.

One of the Best of 2023