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George At 

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Bad Education

Hugh Jackman is excellent as a New York school district superintendent involved in the biggest school embezzlement scandal in history in HBO’s new film BAD EDUCATION.

Based on a true story, Jackman nails every tic and mannerism as the fastidious Frank Tassone, a long time widower in careful control of his appearance, his wardrobe, diet and image, soaking up admiration as his school district excels.

That control does not extend to his fiduciary morals. We watch as his right hand person Pam Gluckin (the reliably excellent Allison Janney of “I, Tonya”) is exposed for tremendous graft, leveraging the school credit card for personal use on a stunning scale.

The film unwinds the crimes of those involved with suspense, drama and more than a little humor as petty cheats on an expense report grow into a massive sense of entitlement.

Janney and Jackman are both terrific, sparring and supporting each other in a complicated dance of ever shifting boundaries.

Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond) continues to display strong dramatic chops as school board leader Big Bob Spicer. Broadway actress Annaleigh Ashford (American Crime Story) nails her role as a dim-witted relative of Pam’s who’s in way over her head with these master manipulators.

Geraldine Viswanathan follows up her terrific comedic debut in “Blockers” with a straight dramatic role as high school journalist Rachel Bhargava. When Frank tells her to not take any story assignment lightly, he lives to eat those words as Rachel digs into school finances and unwraps some very wicked habits.

Jackman holds center court. His Frank is a fantastic mess, supremely confident and cocky, in command of his persona and in control of everything, yet spinning wildly out of balance as the cogs in his elaborate machine begin to slip. The moment late in the film in which Jackman finds himself lost in a brief moment of joy on that club dance floor, followed by the agonizing collapse in a driveway are a tour de force for Jackman. He’s a terrific actor.

His self-righteous speech about the importance of his role as an administrator as the FBI tears apart the office next door is a perfect meeting of ambition & intention with consequence.

The final moments are a terrific wrap of this true-life story that may make you feel a surprising amount of compassion for a man who suddenly seems to realize just how far he’s moved away from having any tangible grasp on the sheer weight of what he’s done.

Jackman is fantastic and BAD EDUCATION is one hell of a lesson. It gets a B+.

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