BAD EDUCATION – Review
BAD EDUCATION can currently be viewed on HBO
Review by Stephen Tronicek
If the standard of a great scene is one where you can watch the external action and see everything going on within the internal life of the characters, then every scene in Cory Finley’s sophomore feature, Bad Education, is a great one. Whether it be the cast, the editing, the direction, or the sound, what Finley’s debut feature, Thoroughbreds was missing in subtlety Bad Education has in spades. It’s one of the most satisfying films over the year.
Admittedly, Bad Education is the type of story you can’t help but fall in love with. Follows the true story of the investigation of a huge embezzlement scheme at Roslyn High School in 2002, perpetrated by Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman) and Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney), uncovered by a student at Roslyn who “followed the money,” (Geraldine Viswanathan). It’s the type of story that prioritizes character and craft over the stylistic trappings of Thoroughbreds.
The pared-down, realistic style of Bad Education is immediately useful to the storytelling. Everything feels so business as usual, that Finley and scriptwriter Mike Makowsky are able to hide so many pieces of information in specific details. It’s a film that asks the audience to figure it out.
It also serves to be familiar, to anyone who has stepped foot inside of a public school. There’s a quiet tension to the way that human flaws are sitting beneath the professionalism of the environment and all that paper. So much paper just rotting away. Bad Education thrives on details like this, the camera focusing on a waterlogged ceiling or a modern art painting hanging on a wall it shouldn’t be on.
Similarly, Bad Education is focused on the details of a character’s face and how much of the face we can see. Early in the film, Frank and Pam are shot from behind, later they are seen in profile, and lastly, devastatingly, they are seen straight on. Jackman and Janney take those close-ups and run with them. They are so good, very specific line readings will become lodged in your head, so illuminating of the characters that they transcend the physical action of the scene. It’s not just Jackman and Janney though. Viswanathan is incredible, Ray Romano continues his fantastic career renaissance in a small role and Hari Dhillon shines in a few scenes as Viswanathan’s father. There’s such kindness to their scenes together that contrasts brilliantly with the pitch black storytelling (on that note watch out for the smoothie Jackman is drinking).
When all of this detail comes together, it’s pretty much unstoppable. There’s a scene near the beginning of the second act where Viswanathan’s student reporter speaks to Allison Janney, that is so excellently crafted from all the parties involved that it becomes a wonderful surprise that the film is only getting started.You’d be hard-pressed to find a better film than Bad Education right now. It’s a wonderful reminder that films like this can not only still be made but also excelled at. As much as the trailers might suggest, this isn’t a funny film. There’s no element of ironic wit to be found here. Just true to life wit that takes its characters and craft seriously.
4 1/2 of 5 Stars