By Shea Stevenson
“How to Blow Up a Pipeline,” a movie currently in theaters, is a thriller about a group of youngsters and their attempt to blow up a Texas pipeline for climate change purposes. The movie’s main goal is to make you cool with that idea, and perhaps open you up to some suggestions evident in its title. It is probably the most radical movie of its kind that could get even the small budget and release it’s gotten. Since this article isn’t a review, here’s the long and short of a review: You should see it. It’s more worth your time than practically anything else hitting screens right now.
Watching the movie, I was brought back to some old favorite protest/propaganda movies of mine like “Do The Right Thing,” “The Battle of Algiers,” and “Sorcerer,” the latter being the easiest comparison, both being about oil disasters and centering around one drawn-out, tense job. It’s worth noting that when I say “propaganda,” I mean in the way that all movies have political angles, but some own it more than others. As I watched “How to Blow Up a Pipeline,” though, I had the nagging sense that something was missing. This feeling has in some ways crystalized since I saw it, and in some ways softened.
The fundamental thing missing from the movie, in my eyes, is verisimilitude. I do not believe the writers actually know what they’re talking about when it comes to blowing up pipelines. It operates more on the battlefield of ideals (they know why you would blow up a pipeline), and while there are certainly worse directions to take it than this movie did, I don’t think the events of the film are any approximation of the reality of such a task. The protest movies that I love are clearly made by or around people who actually do or have done the things on screen, lending them not only realism but, more importantly, credibility.
“The Battle of Algiers” is a movie about Algerian rebels ousting French colonizers from the city of Algiers, and it was made by people who were actual members of that rebel militia. Even though the movie is highly dramatized, the tactics they explain and implement throughout the movie are real. The movie was made as a sort of how-to guide to militant decolonization, not unlike the (assumed) goal of “How to Blow Up a Pipeline.”
I bet to someone not thinking too hard about it, “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” looks convincing on the surface as a viable course of action to indeed blow up a pipeline, but actually is still movie nonsense. Though then again, anyone who would go from this movie right to the pipeline and not figure out a better way to do it along the way was going to mess it up regardless.
On the other hand, it’s ridiculous to ask that these people first wet their noses blowing up oil infrastructure before they decide to make a movie about it. People make movies that are nonsense all the time, one could argue no movie escapes that. And despite the title, this movie is not attempting to teach you the specifics or represent it faithfully. It is, at the end of the day, a normal movie that happens to be about blowing up a pipeline. It seems to me that the goal isn’t to further educate the people who already agree but to get the people who are on the fence or haven’t thought about it much to get on that side. That makes the title weird, but writers don’t pick their own headlines.
I don’t think “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” will be remembered in ten years. This comes down to the fact that I bet it’s bad advice on how to blow up a pipeline, and once its premise is seen as less shocking, only the filmmaking will remain. It’s normal under the hood, with a couple of interesting decisions and a couple of far reaching blunders. As propaganda, it’s better than most of the nonsense we get, I just wish I could believe it. I am probably negative about it because I agree with it and I wish we had a great movie on the podium rather than a decent one. And after all, who needs this to be remembered in ten years? If it becomes a normal movie, if this is where things are headed, isn’t that a win for it? One can hope.