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DVD Review: Bad Education

September 8, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The largest embezzlement of public funds in American public school history provides the basis for the film Bad Education, a largely satirical work that offers a satisfying mix of dark comedy and crime drama.

The film, which premiered at TIFF last year and was acquired by HBO where it aired this spring, is based on the true story of Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman). Tassone is a highly respected former teacher, who worked his way up the ranks to become the superintendent of New York’s Roslyn school district in Long Island, which has flourished under his leadership.

Then it’s revealed that the district’s business manager Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney) has been using school credit cards to pay for personal expenses, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, all under the nose of school board chairman and real estate broker Bob Spicer (Ray Romano).

Tassone forces Pam to resign to keep the story from going public. But when an ambitious young reporter named Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan), who works for the school paper, starts investigating school expenses for a story on the construction of a new boardwalk, she ends up uncovering massive discrepancies. It comes to light that Tassone is also guilty of stealing millions of dollars from the school board’s coffers, and his own career is threatened as the truth starts coming to light.

Directed by Cory Finley, working from a screenplay by Mike Makowsky who actually went to Roslyn and had an inside track on this scandal which unfolded in the mid-2000s, Bad Education is an entertaining and very well acted film. The story itself is engaging, and the film is at its best when going deeper into its characters to explore their motivations. Finley previously made the chilling teen movie Thoroughbreds, and where that film functioned as an unsettling study of murderous psychopathy, Bad Education serves as a more lighthearted look at benevolent sociopathy and greed.

The characters here are flagrantly breaking the law by stealing from public funds, and yet the gambit that Finley pulls off is that we are still drawn in to watching them. Tassone, at least the way Jackman plays him, is a charismatic figure who has a warped sense of entitlement that allows him to justify these crimes. Tassone is also gay and, this being the early 2000s, stays in the closet at work, which leads to many inherent insecurities. The film does a really interesting job of showing the flashes of homophobia that the character faces, while also never forgiving his crimes.

Jackman really sinks his teeth into the role, acting the hell out of several scenes later in the film as the walls start closing in on Frank. Janney also shines as the entitled Pam, and Viswanathan leaves her mark on the film with a slightly sardonic performance as budding journalist Rachel. Rachel’s storyline is one of the most satisfying parts of the film, and Finley and Makowsky are smart for leaning in to it at key points, adding another layer to the story.

This is the story of a respected professional’s fall from grace, but it’s also the story of a student reporter taking down the corrupt authority figures at her school, and Bad Education works on both fronts.

Bonus Features (DVD):

The DVD release comes with three short bonus features – two featurettes and a brief conversation between the two leads – which all appear to have been produced remotely due to the pandemic.

Based on a True Story (3 minutes, 54 seconds): The film’s writer, director and cast members talk about the real life scandal behind the movie.

The Perception of Perfection (3 minutes, 11 seconds): A look at Jackman’s character and performance in the film, as well as the real life figure that inspired it.

Hugh Jackman & Allison Janney: Virtual Conversation (3 minutes, 49 seconds): Excerpts from a video chat between Jackman and Janney, which was done in advance of the April broadcast premiere.

Bad Education is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release. It’s 109 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: September 8th, 2020

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