BFI #LFF 2019: BAD EDUCATION Film Review


With a sharply written script and a career-best performance from Jackman, BAD EDUCATION is a deeply engrossing film which exposes just how far people will go to maintain their image

4 out of 5 stars

The Roslyn High School embezzlement scandal may have happened over a decade ago but in the wake of the current college admissions scandal in America that has put DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES star Felicity Huffman behind bars, Cory Finley’s eagerly awaited follow-up to his explosive debut THOROUGHBREDS couldn’t feel more timely.

Based on real-life events, Finley’s latest feature, BAD EDUCATION, follows Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman), a beloved school superintendent at Roslyn High School, New York. Together with Assistant Superintendent Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney), the pair have helped to deliver stellar academic results for the school, which in turn has skyrocketed property prices in the area, gaining Tassone the adoration of his students as well as the school board. But when aspiring student journalist Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan) is assigned by the school paper to write a puff piece on upcoming school construction project, she uncovers disturbing details hidden beneath the numbers.

The fact that screenwriter Mike Makowsky was a student at the school during the time of the scandal works particularly well for BAD EDUCATION, giving this almost fantastical story a feeling of immense authenticity. Here, Makowsky could have got bogged down in the specifics and the numbers, but instead, approaches it with a lightness of touch, the story weaving in and out of the personal and professional lives of Pam and Frank with ease.

Working once again with cinematographer Lyle Vincent, Finley also delivers some impressive camerawork here, making good use of cool colours, wide-angle lenses and Meredith Lippincott’s excellent production design to frame Jackman against some of L.I.’s finest schools, administrative offices and seven-figure homes.

All of the cast are strong, Allison Janney, in particular, delivering a restrained yet no less effective portrayal as Pam Gluckin, balancing the control and chaos of a woman attempting to keep it together. Ray Romano is equally impressive in his small supporting part as Bob Spicer, if somewhat under-utilized.

But it is Hugh Jackman who truly shines in BAD EDUCATION, slipping into the role of Frank Tassone perfectly. With his slick hair and pearly white teeth, the character isn’t too far from his previous role as Gary Hart in THE FRONT RUNNER, Jackman’s natural charm and persuasive personality demonstrating just how easy it was for the world to be fooled for so long.

With a sharply written script and a career-best performance from Jackman, there is much to like about BAD EDUCATION. Playing like a slow-burn investigative thriller, this deeply engrossing film exposes just how far people will go to maintain their image, asking the audience to look past the surface and sometimes people aren’t always what they seem.

BAD EDUCATION screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 7 October 2019.