Starring: Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, Geraldine Viswanathan
Director: Cory Finley
Running Time: 108 mins
Bad Education is an American film about the true story of a New York school district superintendent who, despite being beloved and acclaimed by coworkers, parents and students, secretly embezzled millions of dollars from his schools.
A gripping film that works both as an exposé and historical drama, Bad Education impresses with striking detail, thought-provoking ideas and strong performances across the board. It doesn’t quite get under your skin with its portrayal of criminality, but it’s still a fascinating watch throughout.
With genre sensibilities that feel often akin to the likes of The Wolf Of Wall Street, there’s something entertainingly captivating about the story Bad Education tells. Ultimately, it’s a sobering tale of insitutional criminality, but the way it keeps you on edge throughout makes the film a thoroughly entertaining watch.
Bubbling with tension under its sleek surface, the film brilliantly embodies the shocking true story that surrounds its main character, Frank Tassone: a dedicated, beloved and successful public school superintendent whose work brought the schools in his district to the heights of the league tables.
Played by Hugh Jackman, Tassone is effortlessly charismatic from the start. He’s personable and clearly dedicated to giving children the best education possible, as he engages with students and parents one to one alongside his wider management duties.
Yet beneath the surface, Jackman plays a slimy, selfish and ultimately criminal individual who uses his charisma to his own advantage. It’s a brilliant performance against type for Jackman, and as the film unfolds and you begin to see the man for who he really is beneath that slick exterior, it becomes all the more gripping.
Not only is Bad Education a tense watch as Tassone seeks to evade exposure for his embezzlement of public funds, but it’s also a striking and thought-provoking look at the limits of morality when contrasted with success for a greater good.
Though Tassone is as slimy as they come by the end of the film, his success and drive to give students the best education possible, and thereby hopefully the best chances for the rest of their lives, strikes up an interesting debate about where the line of morality is crossed, and whether the consequences are the same for everyone.
With Tassone’s secret embezzlement under investigation by a dedicated student working for the school paper, Bad Education offers up a fascinating look at a clash of values between generations, particularly seen in the differing reactions to Tassone’s deeds between his coworkers and students.
In that, the film really makes you think again about the wider consequences of bringing down such a significant, successful and affable individual. Ultimately, morality plays the strongest hand, but it’s interesting to consider the other side of the coin – similar to the connection you feel with corrupt stockbroker Jordan Belfort in The Wolf Of Wall Street.
The only area where Bad Education does fall down is in trying to get under your skin with its portrayal of Tassone and his colleagues’ deeds. Its look at morality is undeniably fascinating, but it doesn’t quite hit home with its portrayal of real criminality, failing to make Tassone’s actions fully despicable, even though Hugh Jackman’s performance goes a long way to doing so.
Overall, however, I really liked Bad Education. A gripping drama that’s filled with detail, an entertaining tension throughout, riveting, thought-provoking themes and an excellent lead performance from Hugh Jackman, it’s absolutely worth the watch, and that’s why I’m giving it 7.6.