I hadn’t seen director Daniel Goldhaber’s directorial debut Cam, despite some considerable acclaim in horror circles. I went to see his sophomore film How to Blow Up a Pipeline knowing it had a good cast and good reviews, and a showtime that worked well for my Sunday last week. Wow. What an intense, gripping, emotionally involving ride this one turned out to be. Goldhaber’s second feature feels like a film crying to be made. It feels immediate and very movie-of-the-moment despite being set in 2007. It’s an incredibly important film but it’s also an exceptional nail biter that doesn’t waste a second of its runtime and also feels like it’s about 25 minutes long.
Theo (Sasha Lane) and Xochitl (Ariela Barer) are best friends in Long Beach, CA, home to many oil refineries. After Xochitl’s mother unexpectedly dies and Theo discovers she’s dying from late stage leukemia, likely brought on by living in a toxic environment, Xochitl recruits a group of likeminded strangers, each motivated by their own grievances, to blow up several sections of an oil pipeline in Texas.
The exceptionally well-chosen ensemble cast allows everyone moments to stand out, and everyone here seems acutely aware of the importance of the story being told. I was impressed by everyone, but especially Ariela Barer, who also co-writes and co-produces here. She has a fury behind her expressive eyes that really sell this whole thing, and after awhile, you think, wow, this person isn’t crazy and she has a point. No wonder all of these people are getting on board with her cause.
Sasha Lane, who’s made an impression in films like American Honey, Hearts Beat Loud and The Miseducation of Cameron Post, continues her stellar track record here as a character who could be quite tragic, but reasserts her power in fascinating ways. Lukas Gage, so good in HBO’s The White Lotus and the most recent season of Netflix’s You, is doing stellar work here as well. He’s got such a magnetic screen presence and I can’t wait to see his career go far.
Kristine Froseth, Jayme Lawson and Forrest Goodluck are names I did not immediately recognize, but they deserve individual mentions here as well. Lawson, in particular is terrific. She plays Theo’s girlfriend who is only along for the ride to support her, and things happen where she must start to feel conflicted, and Lawson plays this especially well. Truly everyone is giving this film exactly the kind of energy it needs, and everyone is expertly chosen for their respective roles.
How to Blow Up a Pipeline feels like a furious passion project and it is. This film will make you upset and it should. If you’re not upset, you’re not paying attention. I was enveloped in this film from the very start and I really appreciated the slight non-linearness of the structure and how you slowly learn more about every character as the film progresses. You get bits of a backstory for everybody, but not too much. It also doesn’t feel like it’s making every character too sympathetic. You’re meant to side with them, but the film invites you to question the specifics of their decisions. And that kind of gray area really elevates this to the next level. How to Blow Up a Pipeline is brisk, involving, angry, riveting and essential in just about every way.