TIFF 2019: Bad Education (Cory Finley, 2019, USA)

               Cory Finley’s Bad Education, based on the true story of the largest embezzlement scandal in US public education history, is a film that is hard to imagine without Hugh Jackman’s performance as Frank Tassone. Wolverine truly dominates the film, with an intensity and vulnerability that we rarely seen from him. While there have been many films made about corruption, it is not often that you find a film which so thoughtfully explores why seemingly good people do bad things. And despite the events of the film taking place in 2003, Bad Education also feels very pertinent with the recent college admissions scandal dominating the headlines.
               The film starts by setting the time and place - Long Island in the early 2000s. We follow Frank’s routine as superintendent and see his role within the school. We are introduced to a cast of fellow school administrators, with great supporting performances coming from Allison Janney and Ray Romano. The drudgery of public school life is mined for laughs here, but the film largely feels inconsequential at this stage. It is really in the second half of Bad Education that the film begins to pick up steam, making up for the uneven first section.
               The challenge of films like Bad Education is to keep things interesting even when the audience knows what is going to happen. Finley manages to do this by selectively withholding certain information about the story, and revealing it gradually throughout the course of the film. Even if you thought you knew something about the original case, you will likely be surprised by at least certain aspects of the story.
               Even when things begin to unravel, the script by Mike Makowsky keeps things in dramatic territory and sticks largely to the facts, with a good supply of dark comedy. I would have liked to see the tone become a little wilder, as there is only so much interest Makowsky can mine from the story at a certain point. This is where Jackman comes in. Watching him gradually begin to reveal the cracks behind his double life as the scandal is discovered is the true pleasure of Bad Education.



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