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MOVIES: Bad Education (LFF 2019) - Review

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Based on a true story, Cory Finley returns fresh off the unconventional underrated black comedy Thoroughbreds in favour of a delightful effort that’s made all the more compelling by the brilliant performances of Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney, who knock it out of the park, making all of writer Mike Makowsky’s script land with the effect that it needs to, leading to a mostly full cinema laughing constantly throughout the movie.

The film mostly avoids the biopic formula in favour of immediately throwing us right into the action in 2002, and introducing us almost immediately to a superintendent of a school district and the film's lead character Frank Tissone, played by Hugh Jackman - who works for the betterment of students’ education, but on the side he's stealing stealing money from public funds to live a life of luxury, visiting Vegas whilst wearing multiple expensive suits in the process. He’s joined in a life of crime by his fellow staff member Pam Gluckin, played by Allison Janney, who uses the school’s cards to ramp up expenses stretching into figures that range into absurdity.

Finley’s direction is fantastic, really capturing the mood and atmosphere of the high-end school, giving us a sense of the environment that we are in and how the characters fit within them. We open with Jackman’s Superintendent Frank Tassone telling a student to write more than just a puff piece for the school’s local news, but unwittingly, he’s planting the seeds that will lead to his own downfall, prompting Rachel Bhargava, played brilliantly by Blockers actress Geraldine Viswanathan - to stubbornly investigate the truth regardless of the consequences that will come with it. To use an example – Viswanathan’ Rachel is the films’ Lois Lane, and Jackman’s Frank is Bad Education’s Lex Luthor, opting for a public facade where he presents himself as a likeable everyman and problem solver dedicated to his job, but we soon learn that he is not beyond temptation.

Based on the real life events that occurred at writer Mike Makowsky's high school during the time that he was a student there, Bad Education has something to say about the American school education system and it’s through his script where the story comes to life, with Finley setting the stages for it to really work. It’s a dialogue heavy movie where we get to understand all the quirks of the characters and what makes them different, reminding us at the very end that this really happened.

The film itself isn’t quite as dark as Thoroughbreds, but Jackman in particular is really able to get at the role of his character in something that’s different to almost everything he’s done in his career before, not since The Prestige anyway, elevating the script even further, allowing for a possibly career best performance, with him being more of a scumbag than we’re used to, but at the same time, his public face makes him appear to have that likeable charm that Jackman manages to get across so well. Allison Janney too, plays her role as equally corrupt Pam Gluckin with conviction, and it’s interesting to see how the extended Gluckin family fits into the narrative too, with some of the best scenes in the film taking place when they’re involved. Gluckin herself is positioned as Tassone without the likeability, and it's clear she is a downright sociopath at times.

Bad Education doesn’t come without its flaws but they are short-lived in comparison, and the plot can sag at times particularly in the first act, but when the story gets going it’s hard not to fall in love with it, and playing out very much like a true-crime drama, it makes audiences positively excited to see how everything unravels making the slow start all the more rewarding because of the set-up required. Multiple incidents keep audiences guessing; American Vandal star Jimmy Tatro playing Pam’s hopelessly stupid son to perfection, and in addition to his actions Tassone giving Rachel the motivation to crack on investigating and turn her story into something more serious sees the start of his downfall, which is mostly kept seperate from his personal life where he has the time to start seeing a former student who in this case, is played by Rafael Casal that allows him to have the escapism fantasy he desires. Jackman makes you sympathise with his performance from beginning to end, and no matter how calculating his character can be, and it’s to his credit that he is more than capable of delivering.

If you want a true crime movie that opts for a different approach than normal (and incidentally, perfect for those looking to get their next American Vandal-type fix after Netflix cancelled the series) Bad Education should be right up your street and tackles real-world affairs in a timely and important way. It’s one of the best movies of the London Film Festival so far and you cannot afford to miss it, despite its flaws.

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