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Bad Education isn’t a sequel to An Education. It’s an HBO docudrama film with the same weighting as the Benedict Cumberbatch vehicle, Brexit: An Uncivil War. It follows the attempts of a beloved superintendent of New York’s Roslyn school district, who tried to cover up the single largest public school embezzlement scandal in American history. Bad Education is based on the New York Magazine article “The Bad Superintendent”, probably a play on the film title The Bad Lieutenant, which explains why they didn’t go there. Instead of Harvey Keitel or Nicolas Cage, we have Hugh Jackman in a calculated and sociopathic turn.
Jackman is a respected actor who while popular isn’t always acknowledged for his overflow of talent and versatility. Superhero movies, musicals, dramas… he’s played many strong and complex characters completely immersing himself with only one Golden Globe to show for his continued efforts. Bad Education is no different, almost the flip side of The Front Runner, giving him the platform to wrestle with the much-loved Dr Frank Tassone’s duality and devilish charms. It’s amazing to see just how expressive Jackman’s face can be, ironically using less make-up for one of his most well-groomed characters to date, allowing every line in his face to contribute to and underline his intense commitment in one of his greatest performances.
He’s supported by Allison Janney, another dependable Hollywood stalwart who has continued to deliver excellent characters with a strong presence over the years culminating in her Oscar for her unrecognisable supporting act in I, Tonya. The golden statuette hasn’t changed her course, grappling with a nuggety role that echoes Fran from Married with Children. The filmmakers use Jackman and Janney’s built-up and trusted film careers against us in a drama about keeping up appearances. Adding even more texture is Ray Romano, who everybody still loves even with a moustache, demonstrating just how prolific he’s becoming in one of several recent supporting performances.
While Bad Education pivots on the staff at this school, they’re offset by a slow-burning subplot involving a tenacious journalist from the student paper. Ironically spurred on by prime suspects, she underpins this cautionary tale, speaking to the power of the press and the importance of whistleblowers, however acute the short-term effects. While a wallflower, Geraldine Viswanathan represents the unfurling of the truth and the dormant power of the next generation in a film that reflects the trappings of modern politics.
“Wipe that smug off your mug.”
A free-ranging tale about corruption, greed and fraud, it’s a small movie with big performances about how little lies snowball and eventually catch up with us. Bad Education thrives on its powerful story, strong performances and a sharp script, which contribute to absorbing drama. It’s a solid film, teetering between the realm of film and television in the hands of director Cory Finley.
Unfortunately for Jackman and Janney, the film won’t be eligible for consideration from the Oscars despite recent developments around streaming titles. However, it will undoubtedly be a firm favourite at the next Emmys award ceremony. While it’s substantial, it could have been more powerful with a bit more wiggle room, leveraged its dramatic tension more willfully and used the bolder brushstrokes of a more seasoned director.
The bottom line: Gripping
Stephen ‘Spling’ Aspeling is 2Oceansvibe’s Resident Film Critic, a “thought leader” (AFDA) and “our generation’s Barry Ronge” (Brothers Streep), who continues to review, write, present, promote and adjudicate film for a host of websites, radio stations, magazines, newspapers, TV shows, festivals and events.
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