Bad Education

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Bad Education
dir Cory Finley
scr Mike Makowsky
prd Fred Berger, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Julia Lebedev, Mike Makowsky, Oren Moverman, Eddie Vaisman
with Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, Geraldine Viswanathan, Ray Romano, Annaleigh Ashford, Rafael Casal, Alex Wolff, Stephen Spinella, Jimmy Tatro, Hari Dhillon, Ray Abruzzo, Kathrine Narducci
release UK Oct.19 lff
19/US 1h43

janney sw romano
london film fest

Bad Education
A terrific balance of smart writing, witty direction and skilfully layered performances elevates this true story into a fiendishly entertaining tale of financial malfeasance. Director Corey Finley cuts through the story without getting bogged down in the finely laid-out details. He and writer Mike Makowsky also remember to keep the characters compelling even as their outrageous misdeeds are brought into the light.
In 2002 Long Island, Roslyn High School rises in the rankings thanks to the work of educators like superintendent Frank (Jackman) and his assistant Pam (Janney). So the school board President (Romano) never looks too closely at what they're up to. Then journalism student Rachel (Viswanathan), writing a puff piece about one of their projects, stumbles onto accounting irregularities. And as she pulls that thread, Pam's carefully built scam unravels, also taking down her husband, niece and idiot son (Abruzzo, Ashford and Tatro). But Frank's secret life, or rather lives, are even more shocking.
The story unfolds in a way that continually takes the viewers aback, played in a way that gives away clues that other things are going on that are yet to be revealed. So each revelation is both a jaw-dropper and not that surprising really. Including the affair Frank is having with a male dancer (Casal) in Las Vegas. That's shown early on, before things start to get even more knotted. And the fact that it took a teenage student to uncover this story is a fabulous irony.

Jackman is on peak form, giving one of his best-ever performances as the well-groomed, pathologically likeable Frank. Watching him squirm is revelatory, and his interaction with everyone around him sizzles with raw charisma. Best of all are his scenes with Janney, also on fire as the casual sociopath Pam. Side roles are also strong, as ace actors create well-rounded characters who beautifully bring their external lives to bear on the central story, a clever reminder of what these smiling crooks are putting in jeopardy.

Indeed, the film never tries to defend these crimes, even as it shows the perpetrators making all kinds of explanations and excuses. It's perhaps too easy to see how someone could fall into this kind of behaviour, and get away with it simply because everyone around them is happy that things are going so well. Which of course begs the question of why some people never have to answer for much bigger fraud that has even more wide-ranging consequences.

cert 12 themes, language 24.Sep.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall