Bad Education (HBO) review – a criminally entertaining film

April 26, 2020 (Last updated: February 20, 2022)
M.N. Miller 0
Film, Film Reviews


Bad Education is a criminally entertaining film.

This review of Bad Education (HBO) is spoiler-free.

Bad Education (HBO), the new Hugh Jackman crime drama, is a story based on the real-life accounts of the writer and a co-producer’s stint attending Rosyln High as a student. What unfolded was the most significant public school embezzlement scandal in history. This brings the question: Who is keeping these stats? Who was the runner-up? Finally, what in the hell happened in the private sector school system that could have possibly topped this?

While I reserve Prisoners as his finest performance, many are touting this Hugh Jackman role as the best of his career. He plays Frank Tassone, a widowed Long Island school superintendent beloved by the brass, his students, and his underlings. Along with his right-hand woman, assistant superintendent Pam Gluckin (Academy Award winner Allison Janney) has lifted the district into exciting new heights with college admissions and a community rich with property values. Both are master politicians or engage carnival Barker’s magicians with pure sleight of hand. That’s until their student newspaper uncovered the truth.

Director Cory Finley (Thoroughbreds) helms a script by Mike Makowsky (I Think We’re Alone Now) that is so razor-sharp and absurd that, like the cockamamie schemes in other classic crime films, you’d think it can’t possibly be true. The story unfolds carefully but with a purpose that has so many sly unveilings, you don’t know who has their hands in the school till. If you don’t see what happens, and the trailer does a remarkable job of not giving away the farm, the story is contingent on not knowing the smallest of details as the enjoyment is how slowly things come out.

Bad Education (HBO) review - a criminally entertaining filmThe cast is exceptional here, with a deep bench, and for my money, Allison Janey performs her career. Yes, I’m talking after her star-making, four-Emmy winning turns as C.J. Cregg in The West Wing, two more for Bonnie in Mom, and her Academy-award winning role in me, Tonya. Her unusual combination of subtle expressive emotions and the sybaritic attitude she brings to the role of someone with no one to answer to the allure of unlimited power without supervision is perfectly played. I would also like to point out the great work done by Rafael Casal, who I have not seen in a film since his tour de force performance as Miles in Blindspotting.

Then there is the matter that’s up for debate — if this is not Hugh Jackman’s career-best turn, it’s undoubtedly his most nuanced. He playsman who started to teach English when he was younger and ended up controlling the purse strings, which will do anything to keep his status, job, and school district at the top by any means necessary. The shades of virtue and idealism are often different shades of grey that can easily slip into cognitive dissonance, and that’s exactly what Jackman accomplishes here.

Bad Education‘s true story is timely since last year’s school admission scandal involved Laurie Laughlin and Felicity Huffman. The matter is that further education has been a big-money business for everyone involved since the mid-90s when the federal government started to subsidize it. This is a satirical glimpse, a well-honed one, of a more significant problem when it comes to higher education, public funds, the power that comes without checks and balances, and when we take our eyes off the real prize— the student.

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