The pandemic has certainly blurred the lines between movie-movies and TV-movies — after all, I didn’t see a single one of my top ten films on the big screen. I don’t know if Bad Education was ever intended to reach theaters, or if it was always destined to be on HBO, but this year that hardly matters.
What I do know is this was one of the most satisfying movies of the year, a perfect example of great actors breathing life into a well-told dramatic story. Old-fashioned, satisfying adult dramas like this are rarer and rarer these days.
The movie Bad Education reminded me of most is 2003’s Shattered Glass, another true story about a person living a lie. That’s a movie I enjoyed at the time but have returned to again and again as a truly great piece of storytelling. I felt the same way watching Bad Education.
Hugh Jackman stars as Dr. Frank Tassone, the superintendent of a Long Island school district, a man beloved for his passionate commitment to his work as well as the results he’s achieved. What his adoring constituents don’t know is that he has been systematically stealing district funds for years. Assisting him in the effort is his deputy, Pam Gluckin, portrayed brilliantly by Allison Janney.
The movie takes its time unraveling the facts of Tassone’s scheme (which are all based on the real-life case), and isn’t afraid to make him likable. Jackman is such a charismatic actor that you find yourself on his side even as his deceptions are uncovered.
As a result, the film plays more like a modern-day Shakespearian tragedy than a true-crime exposé. It’s about the collapse of a human being who had great promise, and the flaws in a system that allowed him to sow corruption in plain sight.