How to Blow Up a Pipeline movie review (2023)

Rounding out the group are two self-styled Bonnie and Clydes, Rowan (Kristine Froseth of TV’s “The Society”) and Logan (Lukas Gage of “The White Lotus”). These wisecracking characters are so into each other they often seem insensitive to the pain of others and prone to distraction. (They get so amped up during the long wait for their cue to begin their part of the mission that they have sex behind scrub brush in the desert.)

Rowan and Logan are just the most obvious examples of one of the things the script gets right about the idealized anger of youth. The film repeatedly makes it clear that if this team is going to blow up the pipeline without casualties and escape to fight another day, they’ll need to stay laser-focused on the part of the plan that’s been subcontracted to them, listen to everyone around them, avoid drugs and alcohol and impulsive sex and other distractions, and stick to a schedule because one slip-up can get all of them arrested or killed. You can guess how that turns out. But anyone studying revolutionary groups will tell you this is real. A major challenge throughout the history of underground activist movements is reconciling the political with the psychological. Humans are wired a certain way, and there’s only so much they can do to control their nature.

The movie also has a self-effacing attitude towards the characters when they try to explain to themselves and others what they’re doing and why. An early group conversation (the kind that would’ve been called a “rap session” back in the era of the Black Panthers and the Weather Underground) throws historical comparisons into a verbal gumbo, touching on post-9/11 terrorism, the US Civil Rights movement (contrasting Martin Luther King with non-pacifist contemporaries) and even Jesus Christ. It’s a great scene because for all their focus and fervor, these people were in middle school ten years earlier, and still have trace elements of adolescence.

The film alternates visceral and intellectual action in a way that trades simple thrills for something more ambitious, though sometimes at the cost of momentum, often suddenly cutting away or into an extended, tense action scene to give you a bit of a character’s history.

The flashbacks are always brief, but there are moments when you can imagine an even more effective, though more traditional, film that’s entirely action-driven. (To be fair, it was wise to fill in the histories by showing the characters doing things rather than have them coughing out awkward exposition in every other scene.) The heist-movie structure lays out exactly what needs to happen, then shows how the group adapts (or fails to adapt) when, say, a surveying drone flies overhead or a couple of armed oil company property inspectors show up. There are screwups, accidents, and injuries, and by the end, everyone’s living by the Indiana Jones caveat, “I’m just making this up as I go.”