In a year scarce of film releases and lackluster digital releases, Bad Education is a film that stands above the rest. In a film that was always intended for direct to streaming/television release, Bad Education plays like a real Oscar contender. Featuring astonishing performances, a powerful score, and sharp editing and direction, it’s easily one of the year’s best films.
Starring Hugh Jackman, the film tells the story of one of the biggest scandals the public education system has seen. Along for the ride in this scandal is a stacked supporting cast. Jackman’s performance is bolstered and maybe even outshined by the likes of Allison Janey and Ray Romano, who make each scene they’re in even better.
Director Cory Finley aims to tell a nuanced and powerful story about greed and power, doing so to a great degree of success. Finley’s sophomore effort fully realizes the sharp screenplay by Makowsky. The story of this scandal is laid out in precise story beats that evolve the story organically. Rather than being executed in an outlandish and overly dramatic fashion, Bad Education thrives on subtlety. With its cinematography, score, and performances, the film shows the mundane and how little it takes to do such monumental damage. The drama is never forced, but rather it feels earned by the time the scandal becomes public and our cast reacts to it collectively.
Hugh Jackman gives his best performance since 2017’s Logan as well. A character we’re introduced to immediately, Frank is a character so self-deluded it’s almost scary. However, this isn’t immediately obvious, which is what makes it so compelling. Jackman’s character of Frank comes across genuinely caring and hard working. Our perspective morphs the longer we spend time with Frank in the film. The dedication to his job takes a dark turn the more it progresses. His treatment and interaction with Janney’s Pam and Romano’s Bob go from a healthy working relationship to bitter enemies in spectacular fashion.
A more subtle yet equally powerful performance/story in the film is Geraldine Viswanathan as Rachel. She plays a student who uncovers the scandal unintentionally. Rachel is more or less the audience’s perspective on the events as they play out. Her interactions with members of the school board like Frank/Pam help drive home the consequences of each respective character. The script and direction in this film juggle the large cast and the story excellently.
Along with the story, beats are well constructed visual cues that speak volumes to the emotion the scene will follow. A single shot of a spilled coffee mug on a carpeted floor at the entrance of Frank’s office bears a lot of weight regarding what’s to come in the scene. Once again, subtlety reigns supreme in Bad Education.
The score provided by Michael Abels (of Us and Get Out fame) creates an atmospheric score that suits the setting and characters well. The way in which Jackman’s Frank spends the latter half of the film trying to keep the scandal from going out is incredibly tense. As the story unravels as the damage is bigger than originally believed, Frank shows his true colors.
One of the best aspects of Bad Education is the nuance of Jackman’s Frank. Whereas he could have been portrayed as a straight villain from the beginning, the film goes a more complicated route. We see the dedication Frank has to his job, to the students and his faculty. It makes it all the more compelling and concerning when he continues to try and justify his crimes. Frank is truly self-deluded, and this could not be done more convincingly by anyone other than Jackman.
Everything comes crashing towards the end in spectacular fashion, with one of the most powerful endings of the year. The moral and ethical discussion on the consequences of releasing the information is shown organically but eventually falls to the wayside in the story to focus on Frank and the powerful ending, as mentioned earlier.
Technically and thematically, the film raises the bar for what direct to tv/streaming films could be. If Bad Education were to have a limited theatrical release similar to films such as The Irishman, an Oscar nomination would not be surprising. Bad Education is a triumph of a film that we needed during these struggling times. – Ernesto Valenzuela
Grade – 9/10
Bad Education is now available via an HBONow or HBOGO Subscription. The film stars Hugh Jackman, Allison Janey, Ray Romano, and Geraldine Viswanathan.