When a beloved school superintendent and his assistant, responsible for spurring college admissions and high property values are threatened by an embezzlement scheme that threatens their entire careers, they are forced to maintain order and secrecy at all costs. Inspired by true events.
Being a teacher is really more of a professional courtesy than an actual job nowadays. Along with the numerous amount of students most of them are forced to mentor each year, they are one of the most underpaid professionals in the educational industry. So it makes complete sense why many of them feel unappreciated and often find themselves looking for other sources of income.
The great thing about Bad Education is that it not only makes the situations of its characters relatable so different audiences can understand their plight but is more a commentary on how the perception of one’s self can lead to bigger problems if left unchecked. The audience sees the lengths that the main protagonist Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman) goes to help his community, but how unvalued he is by the very people he tries to support. At the same time, however, viewers will sense that he may be hiding something since the events taking place are seen through his perspective.
As a result, he often lets his guard down, a major theme that can be represented by his confrontation with Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan). The student reporter is left unsupervised when writing her “puff piece” article on the school’s upcoming construction plans after Frank shows her that it can strengthen her experience as a journalist if she investigates further. His own self righteous nature is his ultimate downfall, as he slowly tries to keep himself in good sights with his peers, while also dealing with a potential embezzlement scandal, involving the school’s funds and taxpayer money.
Before this is revealed, however, Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney) is the first culprit to be accused of stealing said funds for her personal lifestyle, rather than using it to help out the school. Though she never supports Frank’s wrongdoing publicly, any viewer will be able to tell how little she actually cares for her students, as the staff finds out about the length of her actions early on. While he tries to soften the blow of her termination, he uses it as a platform to boost his image, but rarely seeks to fix his own problems, when confronted about them. As time goes on he starts to blame others, rather than face his own issues.
Thanks to the slow pacing, audiences get more time with these characters, as certain story elements are revealed along the way, to not only keep viewers consistently engaged but to add to the perspective the film, as a whole. There is even a nice bit of LGBTQ representation, as the drama also explores Frank’s former relationships as a gay man, despite telling his colleagues differently.
The score is possibly one of the best for a film of this nature, contrary to most audiences’ assumptions that a crime drama about a school embezzlement scandal, would be mediocre at the most. But this is simply not the case here as Michael Abels delivers a chilling theme that will keep anyone invested even in the smaller moments. It works even better for Tassone as it is used to intimidate the audience, as he slowly begins to unravel throughout.
But besides the story, the major driving force here is the acting. Jackman and Janney deliver some of the best performances for their career and elevate the story beyond what one would expect a crime drama to be. They make their real-life characters (Tassone and Gluckin) come alive as if audiences are experiencing these events as they originally unfolded. The rest of the cast is fantastic as well, including Ray Romano, Rafael Casal, and Geraldine Viswanathan, who’s reduced role as Rachel is elevated to star-making status.
Speaking of the infamous school reporter, her character is able to show some heavy-handed commentary on the dangers of hard-hitting journalism. When she first starts investigating Tassone’s wrongdoing, she thinks she is not only helping others but bringing justice to those affected. While all of this may be true to a certain extent, she can not help but feel like she hurting innocent people, who otherwise did not know what they were doing. She comes to the realization that if criminals are not held accountable in any given situation, the guilt of being silent will torment her, as it could ruin the lives of thousands of other people in her community.
While this film does have some comedic elements, they can be often overshadowed by the subject matter at hand. Not that the humor present falls flat, but the crime drama is more concerned with the severity the characters face and ideas that result from it. It is more of a serious watch than anything else, but that never hurts the film in any way, being more of an issue that some viewers will notice, rather than destructive in the long run.
It does take some creative liberties in how the events originally transpired, and still, the narrative is focused enough to allow for a gripping yet accurate version of what actually occurred. Though its themes are similar to other films, there has been nothing else like this drama in the last few years, considering how many stories of gangsters and crime lords have dominated the genre. And in a time when public officials need to be held accountable for their actions more than ever, this film delivers on everything it should.
Bad Education is one of this year’s most ambitious films, as it not only shows how our own perception and prideful nature can skew our sense of reality but makes the situations of its characters relatable so different audiences can understand their plight. While seen in other films, themes of journalistic integrity and the importance of holding our leaders accountable are explored to powerful results. The story itself is engaging throughout to provide audiences with a fresh crime drama that does not idealize the troupes of previous ones. All of the characters are given great development to enhance the ideas present, and the technical work, which includes one of the best scores to date is primarily flawless. Any minor issues are quickly overshadowed by the sheer quality of the film overall and will leave audiences with much to think about.
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