Bad Education, directed by Cory Finley, is based on a true story about how Frank Tassone, a former superintendent at Rosyln Public School in New York, and his assistant Pamela Gluckin embezzled nearly $12 million of taxpayer’s money, the largest ever sum in American history. The film was acquired by HBO after the film was screened at Toronto International Film Festival in 2019, and it’s now streaming on Disney+Hotstar.
What’s the story about?
Frank Tassone, the superintendent at Rosyln schools in New York, vows to make it the best school in the state, and he puts together a plan to build a skywalk in the school. When everything seems to be going as per his vision, a student reporter, Rachel, starts working on an article about the skywalk, and soon, she discovers that Francis and his assistant Pamela Gluckin have been committing fraud. The rest of the story is about how the scandal takes a major toll on Francis Tassone’s personal and professional life.
Hugh Jackman is simply outstanding in the lead role and as Frank Tassone, the actor hits it out of the park each time he’s on screen. The biggest challenge, perhaps, for the actor is to not make the character seem diabolical. Yes, he did steal money and has committed fraud; however, Tassone is also a widely-respected man and had his own personal life, which was not an open book to many who knew him. It’s this range in Frank Tassone’s characterisation that Hugh Jackman digs his claws into and nails it on screen. At no point does it seem like Hugh Jackman’s towering screen presence might overwhelm the story and that’s testimony to how well the actor remains in character. Then, there’s Allison Janney, who’s wonderful as Pamela Gluckin. Geraldine Viswanathan as student reporter Rachel leaves a strong impression with her performance.
The USP of the film, which is based on a true story, is that in 2002-2004, it was the largest ever fraud in an American public school where Frank Tassone and Pamela Gluckin stole nearly $12 million through dubious methods. However, the film doesn’t focus on how they stole the money from the school or make any part of the story look ‘cool’. Instead, what we get is a different insight into the lives of its characters - Tassone is driven by his ambition to make Rosyln the best school in the state while stealing thousands of dollars, Pamela takes advantage of the position that she’s in, and Rachel just wants to know the truth. One could say that the drama between these three characters is almost like witnessing a low-stakes game; however, director Cory Finley and screenwriter Mike Makowsky, give us plenty of details about Tassone’s personal life and how he tried to keep everything low-profile until someone started snooping around. At no point does Tassone lose his cool and he seems unaffected by what he does to his friend Pamela. He remains cold to everything around him, but at the same time, he’s kind to people in the local community and students. Since he isn’t a villain in the strictest sense, does he deserve to be punished? The film leaves you asking plenty of such questions and full credit to Hugh Jackman’s performance for leaving you perplexed about the stand one should take to judge Frank Tassone for his actions.
Music & Other Departments :
Cinematographer Lyle Vincent’s visuals are quite grim and the tone gets gloomy as Frank’s life comes crashing down. Music composer Michael Abels leaves his mark with his work, although the lion’s share of the credit behind the screen goes to the film’s writing. Screenwriter Mike Makowsky and director Cory Finley’s treatment of the story makes it quite relatable, and the subtle drama makes it even more real.
Hugh Jackman’s performance alone makes the film worth watching, and it’s got a good message about how honesty will set you free in the long run.
The film doesn’t quite focus as much on Frank and Pamela’s relationship, considering how both of them knew about what the other person has been doing. So, after a point, it feels like Pamela’s character was dropped unceremoniously from the story. Moreover, at times, in its attempt to keep it as real and subtle as possible, Bad Education fumbles with pacing of the story; however, such shortcomings are few and far between.
Do I recommend it?
Bad Education has one of Hugh Jackman’s finest performances of the actor’s career, and he’s terrific as the ageing school superintendent, whose intentions and actions couldn’t be more different. And the film does good justice to its story, even when the drama is kept subtle and simple.