Follow the Money

If you enjoy movies like “All The President’s Men “and “The Big Short” where scandals are exposed through investigating fraudulent finance, HBO’s “Bad Education” makes for engrossing entertainment.

 Based on the 2002 scandal that rocked Roslyn, New York’s school system, Hugh Jackman stars as school superintendent Frank Tassone. Once an English teacher, Tassone’s new administrative job title makes him ‘all-appearance.” In cleanly pressed suits and drinking diet Smoothies to watch his weight, he’s the guy who gladhands: going to conferences and meeting with school board head Bob Spicer (Ray Romano). He’s the face for the parents, going so far as to lead a book club, and makes himself available for students- Tassone’s driven to make Roslyn High School #1 in the Long Island school district. With the help of right-hand assistant superintendent Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney), who monitors the school’s expenses, a multimillion-dollar school improvement plan called Skywalk is being initiated as the students’ college acceptance rate is soaring. What does all this mean? Everyone in Roslyn’s happy with Tassone: a better school system attracts others to join their community, increasing their property value.

 On a chance meeting with Rachel (Geraldine Viswanathan), a student writing about the Skywalk project for the school newspaper, Tassone inadvertently encourages Rachel’s journalistic tendencies when she labels her Skywalk article a “puff piece.” Tassone tells Rachel it’s only a “puff piece” if she thinks it is, inspiring her to do better. What Tassone creates is a psudo-Woodward and Bernstein investigative reporter who visits assistant super Pam Gluckin and asks for the records of other construction bidders on Skywalk. Pam’s taken aback by Rachel’s boldness and odd request to look into the financial background for the project. When Rachel points out it’s public record, Pam reluctantly gives Rachel the archive department key (hoping she’ll drown in paperwork). Does Pam have something to hide? You bet.

 The unfolding and discovery of how the monies Pam has overseen have been misused is the fun of “Bad Education.” While other factors coincide with Rachel’s investigation of school finances to make “the perfect storm” in the downfall of what Pam and Tassone have engineered through the years, the movie mocks small town politics as it indicts school administration (for what they’ve known or should have known). Neatly directed by Cory Finley, whose 2017 film “Thoroughbreds” also dealt with small-time schemers, “Bad Education” benefits from smartly-drawn characters in Mike Makowsky’s script.

 In their respective roles, Jackman and Janney mesmerize. For Janney as Pam, it’s her slick nonchalant behavior excusing creative accounting as keeper of the coffers; for Jackman, he makes Tassone more than a strutting peacock figurehead and more a controlling narcissist who holds darker secrets than the school’s ledgers would lean toward. Both actors are excellent, particularly when their characters equate inexcusable actions with entitlement for those who’ve paid their dues climbing the public education system ladder.  A lot of good surprises await you in “Bad Education” (Jackman, with short slicked-back black hair, looking like a present-day Scott Baio being just one). In every sense, it’s a movie that’s more than meets the eye.

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