HBO's film Bad Education is a darkly comedic look at the largest public-school embezzlement scandal in American history.
Directed by Cory Finley, Bad Education stars Hugh Jackman as Frank Tassone, a superintendent of an up-and-coming school district in Long Island in the early 2000s. At first glance, the students are thriving, and Tassone seems like the kind of friendly, supportive administrator who teachers, students, and families would be lucky to have. However, cracks in the facade show when Tassone's second-in-command (Allison Janney) is busted for running up home purchases on a district credit card. Soon, a student reporter (Geraldine Viswanathan) suspects that Tassone has been spending money on an even grander scale.
As an anatomy of how a beloved figure could deceive so many, Bad Education compares favorably to 2003's excellent Shattered Glass (about the fabulist reporter Stephen Glass). Tassone was good at his job, and lots of people liked him, so they were willing to keep their suspicions to themselves. And even after the red flags started piling up, school board members were afraid that the scandal would negatively affect their funding and ranking within the state.
Mike Makowsky's screenplay doesn't sugarcoat Tassone. In many ways, he is revealed to be a narcissist by the film's conclusion. But the script and Jackman's performance keep the character human and the situations believable. As a result, it's a fascinating film to watch. It's available on both HBO and their new streaming service, HBO Max.
***1/2 Stars (Out of Four)