Like Quiz Show before it, Cheaters revolves around a surprising scandal that grows out of a situation in which no laws were broken, in this case, an academic decathlon. Not that cheating is ever truly forgivable, but Cheaters makes the impulse to stick it to the privileged braggarts, who dominate the competition on an annual basis, feel righteous and justified. One can understand why the frustrated, out-funded students in this true story would behave as they did. While this is not nearly so skillful a project as Quiz Show, it scores because it details the increasing complexity and fragility of their secret, which must be protected by half-dozen scared, guilt-ridden teenagers under intense scrutiny. It examines repercussions that might seem out of scale for the infraction committed, except that American society values the concept of hard work so fiercely that it vilifies those who succeed through unjust methods, from lip-synchers Milli Vanilli to gold-digger Anna Nicole Smith. Like Matthew Broderick's intervening teacher in Election, Jeff Daniels' Gerald Plecki should have known better, and deserves the career blacklisting that results from his actions. But the fact that a handful of misguided 17-year-olds could be permanently stigmatized by this event is sobering indeed. Director John Stockwell gives this made-for-HBO movie crisp pacing, and Daniels and Jenna Malone deliver affecting portrayals, making for an effective lesson on the consequences of ethical compromise.