Rates: * * * *
Why Did I Watch It? New release and I really enjoyed the director’s previous movie, ‘Thoroughbreds’
Superintendant Frank Tassone runs his section of the Long Island public school system like a private fiefdom; he is lord, master and unquestioned ruler. But he is a benevolent dictator, and his subjects are happy; especially the ones who have seen their property values sky rocket as the school district becomes one of the highest ranked in the US.
His astute business manager, Pam Gluckin, keeps the books and Frank does the PR and the gladhanding. They are a potent duo, firmly entrenched, with their eyes on getting their school ranking to # 1.
But, behind the scenes, a lot is not as it appears. And the Tassone/Gluckin show starts to unravel, in the best tradition of movies and life, with something innocuous; Gluckin’s dense son buying too many building supplies with a school credit card. As it turns out, this is just the tip of a very submerged iceberg.
One of the best elements of Cory Finley’s sharp new black comedy/drama is how skillfully it conceals the final picture from the audience. There are not so much twists, as a widening of the scope; each new reveal leads to a bigger and wider comprehension of the deception. The characters have not only stolen money, but lied about many aspects of their personality, the mistruths piling up on top of each other until you really become unsure of who these people are. They are fully, morally, adrift.
Beyond the story of corruption and abuse of power, the movie touches on a number of social themes; how this well off community pays its educators comparatively not that well, how the US education system is stratified and kids on the lower tiers get left behind, how people would rather believe in a comfortable lie than face an ugly truth.
These different layers are slotted together well (although some are more thoroughly examined than others), by screenwriter Mike Makowsky, a real attendee of one of the schools impacted. Finley has a sharp visual style, and it is nicely backed here with a kind of faux operatic score, that heightens the drama.
But the centrepiece is Hugh Jackman, in an arresting performance as the conflicted, complicated lead; a man whose best intentions drove great achievements, and yet somehow still lead him off a cliff. If the film can’t quite work him out – nicely captured by the ending – you sense it’s because, he can’t either.