Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman) is well-liked as the superintendent of his High School. He knows the students, he knows the staff and he knows his job. Assisted by his friend and colleague Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney), Tassone has a bright future at the school. But after some clumsy errors, it becomes obvious that Glucklin has been skimming money. As the net around her tightens it becomes clear that no one will escape the controversy unscathed.
Cory Finley follows up his superb dark-comedy thriller Thoroughbreds with another masterfully claustrophobic crime comedy. With a Coen-esque focus on characters and their mistakes, Finley gradually starts toppling dominoes until the characters are utterly trapped and their situations hopeless. Occasionally the comedic devices detract from the credibility of the film, which is based upon a true story. The characters of Amber McCarden and Bob Spicer for example are very funny, but stand out a little from the otherwise more credible cast of misfits and victims.
Hugh Jackman is fantastic as Tassone. He’s a decent man who loves his students and goes out of his way to accommodate people beyond his role. He’s passionate and friendly and tragic due to his hidden sexuality. But this film doesn’t soften his ugly side. As his life’s work begins to break apart around him, he exercises power and intimidation in fabulously subtle ways. Jackman proves capable of a subtle kind of menace.
Geraldine Viswanathan is compelling as the school paper journalist who uncovers the entire affair. The scenes of her relentless investigation and butting heads with the adults around her make for some of the films best moments. Allison Janney is also excellent as the monster who doesn’t know she’s a monster. As her crimes are exposed and she’s forced to answer for them, she’s devastating as the wounded animal fearing captivity.
Bad Education is a very funny drama film with some real moments of hubris. To balance such elements in a sensitive and authentic way demonstrates the work of a master. An entertaining and enlightening crime thriller.