What is the cost of education? I’m not sure of the exact cost myself but whatever that price may be, it does have a lasting effect. We all have memories of the teachers that educated us and made an impact in our lives but did we ever think about what they do outside of school? HBO’s Bad Education explores the real-life dealings of two specific administrative personnel in the Roslyn District school of Long Island, New York and how they became involved in the largest public school embezzlement in American history. The result is a gripping story that, while tedious at times, offers an eye-opening journey that most people may not have been unaware of prior to the film’s release.
We begin on Long Island New York in 2002. It’s an affluent suburb outside of the busy city and being so close, real estate is prime in this location. But the housing market can’t be exquisite if the school system isn’t up to par. Roslyn School District is booming and, while they aren’t the best in sports, their students are being accepted into the best colleges and universities in the country. This is all thanks to the amazing work done by the school’s superintendent Dr. Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman).
Tassone wears nice suits, keeps up with his appearance and knows most of the students by name. He is a quiet man who sports a slick-backed hairstyle and composes himself with great posture. At first glance, one might think of him as someone who worked on Wall Street with the way he dresses. Nevertheless, Tassone’s leading the way for Roslyn to becoming the number one school in the district. His second-in-command is Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney), who’s also been with the school for even longer than Frank, but both are close colleagues who thrive on the great work they’ve done.
The school is preparing for a budget meeting in the coming months in order to secure a plan to build a sky-walk in the high school. It’s a major development and sparks the interest of a young sophomore student named Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan) who’s a writer for the school newspaper. She’s granted access to the archive room to do some research, even though her editor Nick (Alex Wolff) claims that “we’re just a school newspaper, not ‘The New York Times.’”
From the beginning, we aren’t sure what’s exactly going on and I’ll admit the first half-hour takes a while to get going. But if you’re patient, the film soon turns into an intense viewing experience and character study for the two administration personnel, who become prime targets of an investigation that reveals embezzlement schemes the likes that had never been seen before. We learn the ins and outs of how this occurred, gradually coming to understand Frank and Pam’s motivation and what became of these two following their exposure. I won’t reveal a lot of details, but this is an exciting movie to view simply because director Cory Finley and his screenwriter Mike Makowsky let the audience become entangled in this web of mystery and corruption.
I have to give credit to both Jackman and Janney, who are absolutely terrific here. They both share a similar sociopath personality once the mask is taken off, allowing us to see just who they really are. What’s shocking is how this embezzlement got started and how it stayed secret for so long. Finley crafts this movie into an absorbing mystery and, as we follow everything that’s happening, we start learning just how large this thing really is and the consequences that follow.
Verdict: 4 out of 5 Stars
Bad Education is appropriately named due to the people involved in this scheme. What is the cost of education? What measures should be taken in order to avoid a disaster of this nature? These are a sample of the questions that flowed through my mind while watching. It’s not a perfect film, but definitely one hell of an engrossing one. If you’re looking for a film that is different from what’s currently available and potentially involves something that you’re unfamiliar with, then Bad Education is worth adding to your HBO streaming list.