Bad Education (HBO) review – a criminally entertaining film

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Summary

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 that is 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 largest 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 who is 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 district rich with property values. Both are master politicians, or more like engaging carnival Barker’s magicians with pristine sleight of hand. That’s until their own 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 know what happens, and the trailer does a remarkable job of not giving away the farm, the story is really contingent on not know the smallest of details as the enjoyment is how slowly things come out.

Bad Education (HBO) review - a criminally entertaining film

The cast is exceptional here, with a deep bench, and for my money, Allison Janey gives the performance of her career — Yes, I’m talking after than 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 I, 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 certainly his most nuanced. He plays man who started to teach English when he was younger and ended up as someone who controls the purse strings who 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 with that can easily slip into cognitive dissonance, and that’s exactly what Jackman accomplishes here.

Bad Education‘s true story is timely since the school admission’s scandal last year that involved Laurie Laughlin and Felicity Huffman. The fact of the matter is 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 larger 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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M.N. Miller

M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.

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