‘Bad Education’ movie review: Hugh Jackman revels in a sharp-edged satire

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Bad Education, that premiered in September last year at the Toronto International Film festival, is all about how deep corruption can seep into the system, eating away the foundational values of the huge edifice. Set in Long Island, New York, in 2002, Cory Finley’s film is inspired from an infamous real incident of embezzlement in a school, arguably the biggest ever in American school system. School Superintendent Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman) and assistant superintendent Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney) have helped take Roslyn School District to the very top: both when it comes to the rising college admissions and the soaring property prices of the area. Till one fine day a Skywalk proposal brings to light the rot within.

It would be unfair to give away anything more about the film itself. The winner is the smart, sharp and dark telling, as bit by bit things are unravelled and the tentacles of greed, deceit and deception brought to light. One thing leads to another till the entire structure falls apart, the elaborate cover-up notwithstanding. It’s a thriller that keeps you on the edge and surprises with some unforeseen turns. Even as people do the utmost to save their skin, they inadvertently also nurture their own future adversaries. Nothing is what it seems. Not just when it comes to the layers of frauds within the school administration itself but the many secrets and lies underlining the personal relationships that play out behind them.

Bad Education

  • Director: Cory Finley
  • Starring: Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, Ray Romano, Geraldine Vishwanathan, Hari Dhillon
  • Run time: 103 minutes
  • Storyline: Based on an infamous, real life embezzlement scandal in Long Island school

The other winner is acting. At the centre of it all is Jackman as Tassone, who comes up with a superlative, layered performance. He has charisma and charm that works on everyone — young and old, the rich and the ordinary. There is the magical ability to inspire students and the parents alike. What also stands out is the proclivity towards thrift, opting for a cheaper diet smoothie. What more would you want in an administrator? Then there is the other side: the conscious effort to be physically immaculate, be it the grooming or the attire. But the spit and polish and the deliberately constructed persona also turns him oddly sinister. Janney, his efficient assistant Gluckin, has a similar indefinable diabolical air about her.

The third significant player is Geraldine Viswanathan, collected and confident as Rachel, the school reporter of the inhouse paper, The Hilltop Beacon, who starts off with doing a usual “puff piece” on the Skywalk project but slowly begins to read much more in the expense accounts. “Any assignment can be turned into a story,” Tassone (Jackman) tells her in their first meet-up. And she does with her deep dive into corruption in which she pulls the audience along.

Bad Education streams on Disney Plus Hotstar from April 26

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