“Virtually every resident of Texas lives near a pipeline,” says the Texas Pipeline Awareness Alliance, which represents the industry that transports the oil and natural gas that we all use. In director Daniel Goldhaber’s sensational new heist film, How to Blow Up a Pipeline, now in theaters, that proximity leads one of those Texans to create a whole new kind of oil boom.

The film builds a narrative around an argument posed in the 2021 nonfiction polemic by Andreas Malm, a Swedish activist, author, and ecology professor. In a world threatened by climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels, Malm believes that sabotaging an oil pipeline is justifiable self-defense.

Once the opening credits have rolled, How to Blow Up a Pipeline gets right to the point. Within five minutes, its eight coconspirators have set aside their lives in various parts of the United States and converged on West Texas. By minute ten, they’re making bombs.

Flashbacks provide the backstory: lead organizer Xochitil (Ariela Barer) meets preppy Shawn (Marcus Scribner) in college in Chicago at a student activist meeting about ways to force the university to stop investing in fossil fuels. Xochi’s childhood friend Theo (Houston-born and Dallas-raised actor Sasha Lane) is diagnosed with a rare cancer that her doctor says shows up in clusters near oil refineries such as the one in her California hometown. Her girlfriend, Alisha (Jayme Lawson), won’t leave Theo’s side. Michael (Forrest Goodluck), an Indigenous self-taught explosives expert, heads for Texas from his reservation in North Dakota. Rowan (Kristine Froseth) and Logan (Lukas Gage) are young anarchists who tangled with the FBI in Portland, Oregon. Waiting for them in an unnamed town in West Texas (played in the movie by a patch of New Mexico) is Dwayne (Jake Weary), a rancher who lost his family’s land to eminent domain for the fictional JDIA company’s pipeline. Dwayne is angry, and he knows a lot about the vulnerabilities of oil and gas pipelines.

As in any good heist movie, our crew assembles quickly. Alisha, Shawn, Theo, and Xochi meet before the film’s action begins; in a slightly corny moment, Rowan approaches Shawn in a bookstore when he’s reading the book the movie is based on. Xochi contacts Michael through social media after seeing his how-to explosives demonstrations, and Shawn approaches Dwayne when a documentary crew he’s on comes to Texas to “put a human face” on people displaced by the pipeline. It’s easy to imagine a version of this film that would include more heavy-handed climate exposition, such as serious text over somber music about the rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, or a montage of wildfires and floods. Instead, the consequences of a warming planet have become tragically mundane, as seen when Xochi and Theo attend a funeral for a loved one who died in a “freak heat wave.”

Back at college, when Xochi loses patience with a fellow Divest Now member who tells her that huge institutions can only change incrementally, the conversation turns to more immediate possibilities. Shawn asks “What about Texas? That’s where they set oil price benchmarks. If we cut off their supply, or destroyed something even relatively small, it would really disrupt s—.” He’s not overstating the economic or mythical stature of oil in Texas, though he leaves out the detail that oil is a global commodity for which prices are set by sellers and buyers all over the world, and would not be significantly affected by the loss of a single pipeline. But they’re not here to get into the weeds of energy economics; they’re here to blow up an oil pipeline.

So, Texas it is, where Dwayne knows all the pipeline routes, has figured out good sites where a bomb might be placed, and leads the aspiring vandals to an abandoned shack where their work can begin. Dwayne packs a wad of dip into his lower lip, drives an old Chevy quad cab (in contrast to the sparkling white Dodge Rams used by the JDIA pipeline workers), and wears a pistol on his hip. His meeting with Logan, the bleached-blonde punk in a Subaru who asks if he can hold Dwayne’s gun, is a fine comedic moment. It gets the message across: to pull off a successful act of sabotage, it takes all kinds.

The film’s villain is the fossil fuel industry, but it doesn’t blame the pipeline workers who are just trying to make a living. Although some of those workers threaten to disrupt the bomb plot at one point, the saboteurs take care not to hurt them.

If all the creators of How to Blow Up a Pipeline wanted to do was make a great heist movie, they would have been wildly successful. It’s compelling, funny, suspenseful, and full of note-perfect performances. That they did so with this source material is wild. (Imagine if an Ocean’s movie had been based on a book about economic anthropology.) Building the story around the protagonists’ reality is what elevates this movie above many an activist screed. Here, the main characters’ lives have been disrupted by climate change and its main driver, the fossil fuel industry. Our motley crew of activists sees disabling even one small piece of the infrastructure that drives it as nothing less than an act of self-defense.

In his book, Malm makes clear that he hopes to inspire sabotage. The filmmakers have been somewhat more circumspect, saying that their goal is to show a successful activist collaboration, as opposed to yet another film where provocateurs are murdered or thwarted by the state or by their internecine conflicts. Seen another way, they’ve made a successful heist movie in which a diverse crew comes together and executes a plan.

Just before the film’s national release, at least one law enforcement agency, in Kansas, warned about it as a potential source of inspiration for attacks on oil and gas infrastructure. No such bulletins have come to light in Texas, where the movie recently opened in most major markets. For now, it’s not showing in Odessa or Midland; folks there will have to drive to El Paso or Lubbock to see it.

Disclosure: The chairman of Texas Monthly, Randa Duncan Williams, also serves as chairman of the general partner of Enterprise Products Partners L.P., a leading provider of midstream energy services, including pipelines.