Film Review: Bad Education

Cory Finley’s sophomore picture Bad Education is a well-crafted exploration of deception. Hugh Jackman delivers an outstanding performance.

Dr Frank Tassone is superintendent of New York’s Roslyn School District, and has turned the high school into one of the top performing public schools in the country. However, a malfeasance scandal threatens the school’s reputation…

Based on real events, Bad Education is a darkly comic drama. Written by Mike Makowsky, Finley’s second feature focuses on malfeasance at a school district. This perhaps does not sound like the most gripping of subjects, yet becomes multi-layered and consequential in Finley’s capable hands. 

The narrative takes a little while to get going, whilst the context and main players are introduced. One of the highlights of Bad Education is that it is unclear where the plot will go, particularly after a significant revelation. 

Makowsky and Finley flesh out the main characters in a methodical fashion. It is unclear exactly how important certain characters will be to begin with, and Finley keeps viewers guessing. One of the film’s strongest points is its depiction of protagonist Frank. The director is careful in his depiction, slowly peeling back the layers, and shifting audience perception. It is expertly executed.

In focusing on this incident, Finley explores a number of themes. Key to the film is responsibility, accountability, and deception. Like Thoroughbreds, Bad Education is concerned with the nature of sociopathy, and the wider impact it has. The setting works as a microcosm to address larger problems in society as a whole. Some of the dialogue later in the film gives pause for thought. 

Bad Education is darkly humorous, yet knows when to be serious. Finley wisely holds back, and is often restrained in terms of comedy.  This works well to assert the gravitas of the incident, as well as the mindset of the protagonist.  

Hugh Jackman delivers a superb performance as Frank; one of the best of his career. He is as convincing as the charmer as well as the deceiver. Allison Janney is also wonderful, and steals several scenes. Geraldine Viswanathan offers a good turn as Rachel.

Bad Education is great character study, and an entertaining watch. Finley certainly knows his craft. 

Bad Education is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019.