Bad Education ★★★★

One of the more beautiful things about being an American is that it’s easy to justify your own success — at least to yourself. This is the land of opportunity, and people are taught from an early age that they get what they deserve, and they deserve what they get; if they weren’t, the injustice of it all might spoil the fun. You don’t necessarily have to earn your good fortune, you just have to believe you’re entitled to it. Needless to say, we are up to that challenge! And we’ll do whatever it takes to keep everything in its right place.

With that in mind, it’s strange that, as Americans, we still tell ourselves that corruption is usually a symptom of greed, as opposed (or in addition) to something that happens when people can’t afford to question their own worth. It’s a red, white, and blue twist on a universal kind of perceptual asymmetry: When you do something wrong, you think of an excuse — when someone else does something wrong, you think of a motive. The incredible magic trick of Cory Finley’s “Bad Education,” a diabolically smart true-life crime drama that stars Hugh Jackman in his best performance since “The Prestige,” is how it manages to balance that asymmetry in the most savage and softhearted of ways, inviting sympathy for the devil even after it convinces you why he should go to hell.