A brief review of the HBO televised movie Bad Education, currently available in the UK on Sky Cinema.
The 2019 film (aired in 2020) based from the New York Magazine article The Bad Superintendent by Robert Kolker, is inspired by the New York’s Roslyn School scandal in which taxpayer funds of $11.5 million had been stolen for personal use by some of the school district faculty. The film set in 2002 focuses mainly on its former superintendent Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman front and centre) whose super-cool and charm earns the respect of his colleagues which breezes over the atmosphere of the ‘number 4’ public school in the country, with Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney) acting as assistant to Tassone, helping to smooth over the administrative side of the district.
The film is part human drama, part social thriller and part investigative journalist tale, the latter in the form of aspiring student newspaper writer Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan plays it naive and plucky) whose initial ‘puff piece’ turns into a explorative investigation piece that she uncovers, thus unravelling a major criminal case conducting by members of the school board.
Directed confidently by Cory Finley, whose first feature Thoroughbreds was truly exceptional and underrated, his second film is every bit as brilliant. Working from the screenplay by Mike Makowsky (a real life student of Roslyn who knew Tassone), Finley has created something of a trademark in his directorial style with help from his crew such as the lingering camerawork by Lyle Vincent, the crisp and sharp editing (Thoroughbreds’ Louise Ford earns top marks here) and the focused performances he gains from his actors. To top it off, this drama becomes part unnerving thriller with the superb score by Michael Abels, Finley has a winner on his hands.
In his most ‘everyday man’ performance since Prisoners, Hugh Jackman is career best here as Dr. Tassone. His character is clever, charming and conniving, in the seriously selfish and sly moments of the sublimely suited Superintendent. Dr. Frank Tassone, who abuses his power of position only to slowly crumble under the terror of being caught in the act – be it his questionable affair with his former student Kyle Contreras (Blindspotting’s Rafael Casal) or his fraudulent affairs, Jackman captures all of these excellent nuances, particularly in an earlier scene when he scolds Annaleigh Ashford’s Jenny’s attempt to implicate him. The Australian actor is also well matched with co-star Allison Janney who turns in another exceptional performance, as assistant superintendent Pam Gluckin, as the actress relishes on her recognisable slowburn rage and stoic vulnerability.
As a drama about mistrust, Bad Education hits all of the right notes tonally and nothing ever feels out of place, Cory Finley and editor Ford makes the right decision to make the film as concise and as authentic to the real-life story as possible. In a sea of great actors such as Catherine Curtin and Alex Wolff, it ultimately belongs on Jackman’s capable shoulders, in this deservedly Emmy winning television movie. It really does not get any better than this for TV this year.