After thoroughly impressing with debut feature Thoroughbreds (which in fact played at the London Film Festival in 2017), director Cory Finley is back with his sophomore effort Bad Education. Based on the shocking true story of the single largest public school embezzlement scandal in history, Bad Education is savage, biting and packed with a wicked wit.
Hugh Jackman plays school superintendent Frank Tassone, an immaculately dressed and meticulously coiffed man who, as it is immediately made apparent, values appearances over everything else. When pupil and aspiring journalist Rachel (Geraldine Viswanathan) starts to uncover some shocking cover-ups in the schools accounts, Frank and assistant superintendent Pam Gluckin (played by the always amazing Allison Janney) find themselves at the forefront of a scandal that would rock the education world.
A cautionary tale against the dangers of greed and privilege, the truth of this story may be hard to believe, but it provides the perfect material for what ends up being a devilishly funny and deliciously entertaining film, anchored by two superb performances from Jackman and Janney. Arguably some of the film’s best lines are delivered by the supporting cast however, who are all absolutely fantastic.
What really stood out about the film aside from the performances was the way in which it captured how far-reaching the roots of corruption spread and the knock-on effect this has. At several points it is emphasised that if the reputation of the school is damaged, then the number of children getting into the big colleges decreases. As a result of this, the reputation of the entire town is affected having an impact on real estate and town image, because parents of prospective pupils will no longer want to move into the area to get their kids into this school. Jackman’s Frank Tassone is the embodiment of this “image first” mentality that plagues the rest of the town, and whilst the actions of the characters are undoubtedly questionable, it does offer a fair and well-reasoned justification for how it was able to happen in the first place.
Regrettably, the film does start to lean on some cliche tropes in its third act, and it doesn’t quite stick the landing on all of the thematic threads in play, but it still barrels along and delivers plenty of dark laughs in addition to well-earned moments of pathos.
As well as Jackman and Janney on fantastic form, there is tremendous talent behind the camera as well. Fresh off of his collaborations with Jordan Peele on both Get Out and Us, Michael Abels delivers another nerve-jangling score which perfectly accompanies the moments of tension and drama, with some dramatic orchestral pieces adding to the theatricality of the almost unbelievable events that we’re watching unfold. Shot on film by cinematographer Lyle Vincent (who also worked with Finley on Thoroughbreds), there is a grainy authenticity to the film that perfectly places it in its early 2000s setting.
With pitch-perfect performances, and a healthy dose of wicked comedy, this is yet another accomplished directorial offering from the young Cory Finley which certainly cements him as one to watch in the future.
Directed by: Cory Finley
Written by: Mike Makowsky
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Annaleigh Ashford, Allison Janney, Alex Wolff, Kathrine Narducci