By Brennan Atkins
Arts & Features Editor
By Noah Barnes
“Bad Education” is a 2020 HBO film directed by Cory Finley based on the real events of the largest public school embezzlement scandal in American history. Hugh Jackman stars as Superintendent Frank Tassone, Allison Janney plays Pam Gluckin, and Geraldine Viswanathan as Rachel.
The story revolves around the final months of Superintendent Tassone and Assistant Superintendent Gluckin’s careers, and how The Hilltop Beacon, the Roslyn High School newspaper, exposed the district for stealing over $10 million from taxpayers.
Jackman had to embody a character who is outwardly inviting, but ultimately cruel – as the title suggests, a sociopath. In the beginning of the film, Jackman has a bubbly personality and his devotion to learning is heartwarming.
He knows every student’s name, makes an effort to learn everyone’s interests, and even remembers a student’s short story from years in the past.
Jackman’s acting ability shines once again in this film, and his dialogue sounds as if he’s been teaching his whole life. Donning a suit to work every day, his character represents the spitting image of what a superintendent should be.
However, the narrative takes a sharp turn when details surrounding Tassone’s life begins to become hazy, and we start to see the man behind the suit.
Finley capitalizes on any moment to show Tassone’s disconnection from the world. He has multiple romantic partners he’s cheating on, lies about having a dead wife, and even justifies using the school’s money to do his laundry.
Suspense starts to swell up when it’s revealed that Rachel, a high school journalist, is researching the school’s financial records to find out why certain parts of the school are in disarray. This creates an exciting feud between Tassone being taken down for his crimes and Rachel proving herself as more than a student – rather a strong woman with a firm grasp of journalism.
The film showcases the brilliant, journalistic minds who attended Roslyn High School at the time. While Rachel is a fictitious character created for the sake of a narrative, she embodies the
devotion to breaking a story like this – countless late nights on the floor scattered among dozens of spreadsheets, documents, and invoices.
Finley shows sociopathy through an unfiltered lens, and it’s almost reminiscent of “American Psycho” in terms of Tassone’s mannerisms and obsessions. Tassone is a man who isn’t fully aware, or just doesn’t care, about how much damage he’s causing. Even worse, it seems as if Tassone becomes completely absorbed by his countless lies – he isn’t sure what’s real himself.
The film highlights the attitude some high school administrators struggle with – treating high school students like children rather than young adults. Talking to these students in this demoralizing way not only stunts their academic growth, but also robs them of applying themselves to “adult” situations.
This film could’ve been directed, and shot, in a way that simply showcases the events that took place, but Finley included an artistic flare to this hard-hitting news story, particularly through the music and editing. Orchestral scores over the mountain of lies being uncovered add a sense of insurmountable tension – they aren’t only going to lose their jobs, they’re losing their careers.
Bad education delivers a solid lesson of sociopathy.