Review: Bad Education (2019)

Director: Cory Finley
Screenwriter: Mike Makowsky
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, Geraldine Viswanathan, Alex Wolff, Ray Romano
Genres: Drama, Comedy
MPAA Rating: TV-MA
Release Date: 4/26/20 (TV/Streaming)
Where to Watch: HBO/HBO Max
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Runtime: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Emmys: Won–TV movie; Nominated–Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie (Jackman)

Bad Education is a made-for-television movie that is really good enough to have been released theatrically, although because it was produced by HBO, that’s where it aired. Thankfully, though, it does mean it’s easy to watch if you are an HBO or HBO Max subscriber (of which I am the later). The film centers on the school superintendent at the center of an embezzlement scandal, which is based on a true story.  

Director Cory Finley was smart to cast Australian actor Hugh Jackman in the leading role. Not only does he have a knack for American accents, he tends to give his best performances when challenged with complex characters such as this. And, in Bad Education, Jackman is absolutely electrifying, mysterious, and despite his unlikable qualities, still charming. Even by the end, there’s still so much about the character that we don’t know, perhaps more secrets hidden under the surface. Thankfully, in Jackman’s more than capable hands, this mysteriousness is a good thing. This is also, I believe, the first time he has played a queer character (at least onscreen, and not onstage). 

Although it is really Jackman’s movie, he receives assists from  the always-wonderful Allison Janney — in a New York accent that is a bit too thick — as the assistant superintendent who is just as guilty as Jackman’s character, although seems to feel more remorse.the best. I only wish that her character was more visible in the rest of the film, as her scenes with Jackman are  Geraldine Viswanathan is great as the  novice high school journalist who is eager to uncover the truth behind the embezzlement. Ray Romano, Alex Wolff, Annaleigh Ashford, and others fill out the rest of the strong supporting cast. 

The film doesn’t try to present Jackman’s superintendent as a pure evil character, although we see him do some pretty terrible things. But, then, we’ll see the way he interacts with his live-in partner, and how he can be sweet and kind to others.  However, of course, we are not meant to empathize with him or to understand why he stole money from his school district. Rather, Bad Education is almost like a case study, a glimpse in the life of a rather fascinating individual. 

Grade: A-