Bad Education is a deliciously piquant pairing of Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney.
In the early 2000s, Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman) was Roslyn, New York’s star school superintendent.
He is hugely charismatic and delivering stellar academic results that helped property prices skyrocket with a housing boom fuelled by parents’ desperation to move into his school’s catchment area.
Along with his trusty, salty dog of a deputy, Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney), he could do no wrong.
But then a plucky student reporter – Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan) uncovered some shocking secrets about the school’s finances.
Collaborating with a gifted production team that includes composer Michael Abels and shot on film by Lyle Vincent, Finley crafts a compulsive school-set political thriller.
The film recalls Election and Half Nelson in presenting a high school environment that isn’t what it initially seems.
It is the unfolding of the single largest public school embezzlement scandal in American history.
Though Bad Education is based on the Roslyn High School theft, knowing nitty-gritty details about the real-life incident is not necessary.
Director Cory Finley narrates the story in an effortless manner.
The bleakness of the film’s subject is balanced very neatly with the humour, where it almost seems like the comedy is satirical.
It is not easy to make a comedy driven by a serious issue, but Finley does it well. In fact, the movie’s tone reminds one of The Big Short.
The narrative itself is cinematically enriched. From the initial choppy wide-shots of the school to close-ups of Frank Tassone, Cory immediately sets the scene and backdrop.
Followed by a steady pace, we gradually see all the ordinary-seeming characters get caught up in an extraordinary, life-changing circumstance.
As such, a shot of a leaking ceiling foreshadows the manic and drama that is to unfold.
In the process of doing so, the director presents a wave of nostalgia and manages to encapsulate the early 2000s USA well.
Seeing the white Windows computers, slide-up Motorola mobiles, references like the PlayStation, as well as the hairstyles and costumes authentically set the scene.
Amidst all of this, the movie subtly outlines several sub-themes including morality, greed and courage. As the narrative progresses, one can feel the bottleneck of the truth exploding.
The film has a stellar ensemble cast and each actor does an incredible job… Every actor shines in their respective parts… Especially Allison Janney and Geraldine Vishwanathan.
However, Hugh Jackman is a show-stealer.
Jackman has perhaps given the performance of a lifetime by playing a charming and sweet-talking superintendent.
Constantly obsessed with his good looks, dressing sense and reputation, he displays sociopathic behaviour in the most simple but effective way.
This is a character which requires great prowess and it is an understatement to say that he is excellent.
Plus, the writing of the humour and characters are sensitive. The theft or Jackman’s character is never glorified or romanticised throughout the film.
At the same time, it strangely makes us sympathise with his role, even though his actions are deplorable… Which he also does not deny.
In fact, every character in this film, besides Rachel, exudes grey shades and yet there is a vulnerability to all of them.
As a piece of cinema, Bad Education does not have many faults. Despite a slow-burning pace, Cory Finley maintains our attention from start to finish.
The comical quotient is not at all short-lived and continues to make us laugh whilst not digressing from the film’s seriousness. It’s a risky combination that is remarkably triumphant.
Above all, though, Hugh Jackman puts his best foot forward as an actor and it’s imperative you see him work his magic.
A strongly recommended watch!
⭐⭐⭐⭐.5 (4.5/5 stars)