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“Bad Education” Is A Masterclass From Hugh Jackman

HBO is both a great and slightly regrettable home for Bad Education. When they picked up the movie out of the festival circuit, it was somewhat of a surprise. After all, the flick had gotten some strong awards buzz, especially for star Hugh Jackman. Would they really be going for potential Emmy (and Golden Globe) attention, as opposed to gunning for Oscars? Well, it appears that way, and aside from that unusual quirk, it’s undeniable that they have a quality picture on their hands. This is actually one of the better titles of the year, no matter where you actually see it.

The film is a true crime character study, looking at a massive instance of long term fraud in the affluent Long Island city of Roslyn. The school system in the town is among the best in the nation, due in no small part to the work of the Superintendent of the district, Dr. Frank Tassone (Jackman). Beloved by parents (for increasing the property value of their homes) and students (for his legitimately dedicated ) alike, Frank is the educational equivalent of a rock star. However, along with the school district’s Business Administrator, Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney), Frank has been bilking the taxpayers out of massive amounts of money. When Pam’s spot is blown, Frank throws her under the bus, in an attempt to save his own skin. Unfortunately, a suspicious Roslyn High School student and aspiring reporter Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan) begins to uncover his house of cards. When all is said and done, Frank and Pam, along with their friends and family, will be convicted of engaging in the single largest public school embezzlement scandal in American history, totaling more than $11 million. Cory Finley directs a script by Mike Makowsky, with cinematography by Lyle Vincent, along with a score from Michael Abels. The strong supporting cast includes Annaleigh Ashford, Kayli Carter, Rafael Casal, Pat Healy, Kathrine Narducci, Ray Romano, John Scurti, Jeremy Shamos, Stephen Spinella, Alex Wolff, and more.

Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney are excellent here, though Jackman especially shines. Both are able to hit comedic, as well as dramatic, high points, making these characters three dimensional and, if not lovable, deeply understandable crooks. Janney is a force of nature here, but what Jackman accomplishes may be the best work of his career. A winning smile, a sense of truly caring, and ample amounts of dedication shield those around him from his secrets. As they come to light and he begins trying to do damage control, the flawed individual emerges, and he’s just as compelling. It’s truly a masterclass from an incredibly talented actor.

Bad Education is equal parts, enraging, entertaining, funny, informative, and sad. The screenplay by Mike Makowsky (who was a student at the school when the actual scandal broke) is observant and smart, while Cory Finley’s direction is totally on point. The tone is so steady, mixing genres almost at will, that you get immediately sucked in. It’s not flashy, but this is rock solid work behind the camera, helping to fuel what’s accomplished by Jackman, Janney, and the rest of the cast.

HBO likely has an Emmy and Golden Globe player on their hands here, especially for Jackman, but it’s hard not to wonder what might have been, Academy Award wise. It sure seems like Jackman would have been at the very least a lock for a Best Actor nomination, and could have even been the Oscar frontrunner at this early juncture. Allison Janney would be in play for another Best Supporting Actress nomination, while a citation for the screenplay wouldn’t have been out of the question. With that combination, some talk of a Best Picture nod would have come along, too. Instead, these noms will have to come from television awards shows, which is no small potatoes, either. Still, one wonders what might have been for the movie.

Now playing on HBO, Bad Education is a real gem. A satirical look at a very real and troubling scale, this is one that’s not to be missed. Anyone with the premium channel can give it a look right now, and you really should. Hugh Jackman alone is more than worth the time commitment. This is one of the better films of the year so far, regardless of the format. What began on the festival circuit at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival now ends on the small screen, but size doesn’t matter here for this flick. It’s a standout title in 2020, plain and simple. Don’t miss this one.

Be sure to check out Bad Education, available to watch now on HBO!

(Photos courtesy of HBO)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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