Bad Education

Watch this movie. It is new to HBO, and absolutely worth watching. With impeccable direction and a fantastic script the film unfolds the story of the largest public school embezzlement scandal in American History.

Hugh Jackman stars as Frank Tassone. He’s the superintendent for the number four school district in the state. The pressure is on to get them to number one. The film takes its time establishing the world of Frank Tassone. The school board, the parents, and the local leaders all want to reach number one and put pressure on Frank to make that happen. It shows a different side of the education system. One in which high achievements equal property tax revenue and more money for locals. It is all wrapped up in the rhetoric of caring about the students. What’s interesting about Frank is that he seems to genuinely care about the students and their success. He feels like a true believer who is in the middle of a balancing act between these external forces and what is best for students.

Unfortunately trouble is on the horizon. When a student writing for the school paper interviews Frank, he encourages her to dig a little deeper. She is Rachel Bhargava played by Geraldine Viswanathan. She decides to dig a little deeper and during her tense interviews with administrator Pam Gluckin, played fiercely by Allison Janney, some things start to come to light.

To say anymore would spoil the fun and the surprise of the film. This movie doesn’t rush through every new development and dumped plot twists on the audience. It tells its story in a calm measured way that allows the story to unfold and develop naturally. The twists don’t feel cheap or gimmicky. They feel like truths that the audience can look back through the movie and see all the seeds that were planted throughout. The movie is based on a true story, and as far I can tell it hews closely to the truth with a few embellishments to make the story work as a film. The characters and events sometimes feel impossible, but the crazier the details seem the more likely they are to be true.

Hugh Jackman’s work here is stunning to watch. The way Frank is written and the way Jackman plays him make him feel like the fully fleshed out real person. Jackman disappears and Frank takes over. He totally embodies this man who is so much more and less than he appears at first. He is charming. He is guarded and defensive while at the same time feeling open and inviting. He is truly scary in a scene that is late in the movie.

Right up there with Jackman is Allison Janney. Her character is so richly detailed and performed that once again the facade of actor and performance falls away and we’re left with a real woman. She is fierce and formidable, but during a scene in which she panics and breaks down she elicits real sympathy and sadness.

Geraldine Viswanathan is such a delightful young performer. She aha few film roles under her belt, and she has always brought a unique energy to her work. Here she nails the role of a high schooler who may be in over her head. She too unfolds over the course of the movie to reveal so much more about herself than she at first appears.

The screenplay, written by Mike Makowsky, is perfect. It reveals so much about these people’s lives and makes them real people. It interweaves all these people and their stories, and creates a tightly wound narrative that has more and more layers the more you dig into it. This script coupled with the direction by Cory Finley creates an entrancing narrative that sucks you in. With every new revelation and story development the audience is pulled in ever deeper. The movie hits every right note. Considering this is Finley’s second directorial effort, and Makowsky’s third screenplay, this movie is quite the achievement.

I really loved this movie. I started watching it on a whim. I just wanted to check out the first few minutes or so. I ended up hooked and watching it through to the conclusion. It was so good. I’ll watch it again anytime. I watched it on HBO Now. You can watch it on the HBO network, their streaming service or you can get HBO through Amazon Prime or Hulu. It’s worth it. It’s my cup of tea. – A

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