Bad Education ★★★

"My problem? My problem is you. It's the people who trot their poor children out like race horses at Belmont; who derive some perverse joy out of treating us like low-level service reps. Do you remember the teachers who sat with you, who held you by the hand, who taught you to add and subtract, or showed you Gatsby and Salinger, for the first time? Mockingbird even? Do their names escape you? Are their faces a blur? You might forget, but we don't. We never forget. Ever."

Do a person's not insubstantial indiscretions and misdemeanours undermine their enviable achievements?

That is the question at the heart of BAD EDUCATION, a film based on the true story of New York school superintendent Frank Tassone, a man who got his district to the top of the league tables while at the same time embezzling millions from the very people he was supposed to be helping.

Hugh Jackman plays Tassone as your typical sociopath. He's successful, he knows all of his students' names, and he's adored by the very community from which he steals so much. In his mind, the ends justify the means absolutely and unequivocally. He's cruel, exploitative and prone to fits of rage, yet he is able to disguise his true self beneath a veneer of middle-class respectability that appeals to people who measure the value of a public school system by its effect on local property prices.

Tassone is also a man wracked with inner conflict about his role, his career and his sexuality, and it is these conflicts which drive the drama. Ably supported by his co-stars, Jackman's performance imbues Tassone with complex motivations that are difficult to judge, and although I think there are a few missteps in the characterisation (in particular, the portrayal of a gay man entering a somewhat predatory relationship with an ex-student feels horribly misjudged...), BAD EDUCATION gets the core stuff right, and does so with a sharp sense of humour that could easily have been left on the cutting room floor by lesser talents.

BAD EDUCATION is a little rudimentary in its storytelling but thanks to some strong performances and a forensic focus on the character of Tassone, it remains an engaging watch.