Bad Education: Deviously Entertaining Biopic about White Collar Crime, Starring Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney–HBO April

Hugh Jackman stars as former Rolsyn schools superintendent

Hugh Jackman as Frank Tassone in HBO’s “Bad Education.”

Bad Education includes scenes of Tassone studying late at night to memorize the names of his students and their parents. He took the time to help a distraught mother with a learning-challenged son. Ironically, he was the one to push that student reporter to dive deep into her story about the budget.

Jackman notes: “By all accounts, Tassone was a dedicated educator.  He built Roslyn into the kind of school that nurtured his creativity and helped usher him into an Ivy League education.”  The actor holds that “any person, like Tassone, can actually be two things at once.”

What really attracted Jackman to the project was “the fact that it was true, and that it showed the gray areas of humanity. So obviously in the end a lot of people went to jail and they did something very bad and stole public money, it was a terrible thing, it was the largest theft in school history. But what interested me is that slippery-ness of truth–what started as something small and justifiable, snowballed into $11 million thing. And they somehow they justified it to themselves.”

Does it bother him as an actor that he plays a corrupt man? “Not at all,” says Jackman, “you have to get past that moral judgement, or you can’t take the role. If you can’t get past that, you have to say ‘no thank you.’ Because you have to really fall in love with your character, you have to trust the character, you need to advocate for them in that role.”

There’s no denying that Tassone did something terribly wrong, but Jackman contextualizes the crime in terms of the zeitgeist: “This was a period of time where a great superintendent would mean so much to a community in terms of real estate prices and the position they were being offered, there were actual contracts where people were given two week vacations in Europe in their contract, this was a public school contract. They were being very creative in attracting the top people, and Frank was without a doubt the number one in the country.”

There’s both delusion and self-delusion to the story’s anti-hero, according to Jackman: “Frank was told that it would be totally within his rights, and totally normal if he took $10,000 a month from the ATM machine, because of the amount of work that he was doing. So in his head, he’d be saying, ‘okay, I am the best in the country–he earned a doctorate from Columbia University–and if I went to Wall Street, I’d be earning $20 million a year.”

Jackman elaborates: “When Frank was convicted and someone told him you stole millions, he said, ‘no, no, that’s not true, I stole only one million.’ So he didn’t say oh my God I stole a million, but the one point two was money that he gave back to teachers in forms of you are doing an amazing job, I’m going to send you to Poughkeepsie for the weekend, or here’s a bunch of flowers or he would put on a lobster lunch. In his way, he somehow justified it. And then it just snowballed to a point where he somehow thought he deserved it.”

The movie gets more engaging when a bright student journalist named Rachel (Viswanathan) enters into Tassone’s office for a story about a skywalk the school is planning to construct.  She gets some quick quotes, but, strangely, it is Tassone who insists on a more solid piece, when Rachel says that it’s just a puff piece. “It’s only a puff piece if you let it be a puff piece,” he says, unknowingly encouraging her delve into some hidden secrets. What begins as a minor story, initially dismissed by her paper’s editor (Alex Wolff) as a waste of time, gradually snowballs into a full-blown scandalous event, covered by the major media.

There’s a good sense of irony in the movie’s title, as the screenwriter notes: “The best education I ever got was at Roslyn, so it’s kind of funny that the movie is called ‘Bad Education.’”

Bad Education is both “deviously entertaining” and “entertainingly devious,” due to the relevancy of the story, the sharp script, and interspersed witty humor. But the most crucial factor is the charismatic performance of Jackman, an inherently likable and trustworthy thespian, which should be remembered in the upcoming awards season.
Fate of Real-Life Figures
In 2006, Tassone pled guilty to first-and second-degree larceny, and was sentenced to 4 to 12 years in prison. He was released eight months early, in February 2010, and still receives a state pension of $173,000 per year.
Pamela Gluckin pled guilty to first-degree grand larceny in September 2006, and subsequently served 5 years in prison.