by Philip Price
Director: Cory Finley
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney & Ray Romano
Runtime: 1 hour & 48 minites
Cory Finley's “Bad Education” is so briskly paced and so increasingly engaging with every turn that you wish it were twice as long with twice the amount of detail. There is a single shot of Hugh Jackman after Allison Janney's Pam Gluckin stops on his eyes for confirmation of the angle, she needs to play that is top tier stuff that encompasses the work both actors are doing here. While I was somewhat lukewarm on Finley's debut feature, “Thoroughbreds,” “Bad Education” is undoubtedly one of the best films of 2020 thus far.
A cautionary tale of people with genuine ambition who take real initiatives to implement plans on top of plans to present how successful they are only to convince themselves they deserve more than their annual salaries allow. It's about people attempting to validate themselves within a system that inherently minimizes their overall contribution to the world. “Bad Education” is both a testament to the unsung heroes of the education system and a call to hold those in positions of power responsible for the power they've been granted. What makes the film so satisfying though, is that it somehow manages this balance in an even fashion by becoming a character study of the multi-faceted Frank Tassone. Jackman's portrayal of superintendent Tassone first convinces the viewer that he's a true educator through and through before revealing it is this same charm that convinces us of as much that is also weaponized to blind those around him to the indiscretions he's committing. Jackman plays the character as someone who knows how to interact with people by scanning them upon meeting them and figuring out what type of person they want in their life and becoming that person; this works out all the better when the person he's meeting can assist in Frank accomplishing Frank's vision. Tassone becomes so comfortable in this space that it is ultimately by his own boldness and confidence that he is undone; the decade plus of planning and scheming making it all the more tempting to prove just how far he can push things, to prove just how much he can pull one over on the people who think they know him best.
It's a masterclass of casting and performance as Jackman's universal reputation as being the most likable person on the planet allows the audience to feel more sympathetic to not only Tassone's actions, but his reasoning and justifications for them. Janney's Pam serves as the only individual we see Tassone let his guard down around while Pam almost becomes the one, we offload all the blame onto as her motivation feels less like justifications and more like excuses. Naturally, Janney charms the pant suit off the role as this woman who had to work hard to get to where she'd landed and, as is the case with most of us, was conditioned to believe she was entitled more to what she believed she deserved after working as hard as she did than what she'd been given. Finley utilizes the structure of Mike Makowsky's (who attended the school where the real events occurred) screenplay to unravel the multiple layers of this dark and biting tale while reducing the stylistic impressions he displayed in “Thoroughbreds” in favor of a look and style that more closely mimics that of our anti-hero.
And while Abels' aforementioned score is astoundingly fitting the choice to roll the credits to Dido's "White Flag" is the pitch perfect kibosh on this story of a man so convinced of his direction that he was never going to let anyone else take the wheel no matter how many violations he disregarded or accidents he caused:
"I know I left too much mess and
Destruction to come back again
And I caused nothing but trouble
I understand if you can't talk to me again
And if you live by the rules of it's over
Then I'm sure that that makes sense"