Sunday, June 16, 2024

Daniel Goldhaber’s eco-terrorist (his word) thriller rides a sharp edge while executing some sneakily cool plot twists. The frenetic techno score by Gavin Brivik rivets as it breathes dread into nearly every frame – it’s essential. That said, there’s also something naggingly twee and subtly insincere to “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” that robs it of what could have been an earnestly earned victory lap.

You can’t argue with the film’s high-alert climate change messaging – I mean you can, but I won’t. Adapted by Goldhaber, Ariela Barer (who also stars and is one of the producers) and Jordan Sjol from Andreas Malm’s 2021 nonfiction work, the movie settles in with a group of young climate change activists who are looking to up their game from slashing the tires of diesel-chugging SUVs to the event of the title. The assemblage is one of diverse backgrounds, but all are focused on the same thing: Stopping climate change now, by any means. Xochitl (former “Modern Family” star Barer) lost her mom during a heat wave; the bomb-making expert Michael (Forrest Goodluck, who played Leonardo DiCaprio’s son in “The Revenant”) is angered by the presence of oil crews on his native lands; another, a square-jawed Texan (Jake Weary), is pissed off a pipeline is being put through his backyard; and then there’s the Bonnie and Clyde hipster couple (Kristine Froseth and Lukas Gage) who seem to do this kind of thing just for the fun of it.

Goldhaber, who came to notoriety for his taut Internet chiller “Cam” (2018) about a camgirl who encounters her doppelgänger on the Web, shows a deft eye for plot orchestration and messaging, but when it comes to depth of character, not so much. How the principals come together – by happenstance, Internet forums, current relations and even a documentary – is well baked, but once we meet them and learn their “Dirty Dozen” expertise, we never really get much more; most come off as posturing idealists with an ax to grind and no grindstone.

There are, at varying key junctures, punctuated flashbacks in which each activist’s backstory is meted out. Some add great relevance to the current action, others feel like ill-advised meanders, a detraction from the main mission, like the driver of a getaway car who decides to go into a bar for a burger and a beer moments before the heist goes down. Of the characters, Barer’s Xochitl feels the most developed (wearing the writer’s hat likely having something to do with that) along with Theo (Sasha Lane), who grew up with Xochitl and, like several others in the group, withholds critical information from other players – though her’s is more organic and real, less a plot-twist gotcha. Thankfully on tap is Theo’s girlfriend Alisha (Jayme Lawson), the group’s Greek chorus (“people are going to get hurt,” “this won’t work” and so on).

The group’s decision to go over the line into violence is rationalized as justified because global corporations bow only to their boards and the bottom dollar, and the only way to stem climate change now is to trigger a domino effect of eco-terrorist acts. I’d argue that getting legislation passed that would put a stiff tax on non-green corporations and those lazily reliant on fossil fuel would be the way to go, but, hey, if someone asked me that back in my bar-brawling days (probably at the apex of fossil fuel consumption), I’ll likely be up for lighting it up. Then again, I don’t think I was that interesting or deep back then either.