‘Bad Education’ Review by William Hume
Hugh Jackman is a good actor, but just how great is he? I often wonder as I marked his previous Best Performance in Prisoners seven years ago. That performance was all unbridled rage but this here is the complete opposite; subtle and internal. Hugh plays a man of many faces, as he’s introduced looking at himself in the mirror the movie as a whole lights him to look like Clint Eastwood one moment and Kevin Spacey toward the end. It might be natural for a Broadway actor (Emmy, Tony Winner, and Academy Award nominee) to play the vanity card here but Jackman internalizes in a way that avoids the obvious cannon fodder outbursts his character might have towards parents or children. It’s what makes his character fascinating; he’s a good teacher but a bad person. In his best scene at his lowest point he is able to summon all the enduring energy he is known for to inspire a little helpless student to pronounce a tricky word. Here Jackman is using the same inexhaustible charm we’ve seen that elevated the scoundrel P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman (if you ever get the chance, you should scout over the film’s remarkably enduring box office performance) here used for good. It helps that the actor gets to also draw on his real life experience as a former teacher.
Bad Education has all the material in place for a dark satire but rather than play education for laughs director Corey Finley similar to his last film Thoroughbreds charges his characters high sociopathy against high class suburban and mundanity. It’s surreal drama in a familiar setting that fits the blueprint for other HBO films like The Wizard of Lies or Recount. Last fall at the Toronto International Film Festival before HBO bought distribution, critics were worried this film would go under-seen, but with the current climate I think most people will find the time to check out Bad Education.
Geraldine Viswanathan who played John Cena’s daughter in the 2018 comedy Blockers is also inspiring as a high school journalist incidentally led by Jackman’s Dr. Frank Tassone to turn a routine puff piece into something more substantial. Her performance reminded me of those times a teacher convinced you to do something a little less routine and create something more substantial. Her digging also reminded me of the time I spent at my University newspaper The Fulcrum, although I nor the actual character on which she is based went to such deep lengths as a Freedom of Information Act request.
The movie like Thoroughbreds is also very well shot and I had a fun discussion with my film head brother on the influences of this movie. I imagined it was a producer led film that started with the high profile script (on 2016’s Blacklist) whose direction was inspired by the Best Picture Winning Spotlight and the early lower key slice of life style of films by Wes Anderson with some Paul Thomas Anderson style in there. He more succintly put it in place of Alexander Payne’s Election. If any of the filmmakers are reading this a) Good job! and b) What’s the answer apart from everything?
Throughout the film people frequently turn to others such as Frank Tassone (Jackman) for help or blame. “Frank will fix this” Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney, very good) says. Though Bad Education recognizes the inspiration that can come from someone directing you towards the right answer it leaves its characters and audience, like any good student, to discover the revelations for themselves. The answers to Bad Education‘s questions; what to do or who to turn to and run from are among its biggest pleasures and they frequently intersect. The system may not work, (Hollywood filmmaking; especially at this time, or the education system itself) but the results it produces are at least inspiring.
Written By: Mike Makowsky/ Directed by Corey Finley/ Starring Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney and Geraldine Viswanathan/ Distributed by HBO Films/ Available NOW