Review by Jane Freebury

It’s good to see Ben Mendelssohn return to the big screen in Hunt Angels as he’s mostly been in television since his last local film, Mullet in 2001. He looks relaxed in his 1930s suit, hat and haircut and his take on the maverick Sydney filmmaker Rupert Kathner is thoroughly accomplished, in this unusually staged, clever and entertaining movie that could be called documentary, although it’s largely dramatised.

Rupert was a bit of a scoundrel, always looking for a business angle, never at home with his wife and child. His passion was for making movies, Australian movies, and once he met his soul-mate Alma Brooks (Victoria Hill) she became his muse and partner in filmmaking.

It has never been easy getting film projects up, one at a time, and when Rupe was trying to follow his dreams, there were some additional constraints. A blanket ban on the bushranger films for instance was still operating, their popularity made the authorities uneasy, and the newsreels only showed the good news stories. Real-life crime was never shown.

Being a resourceful scoundrel with a nose for a good story, Rupe and co. managed to make 19 movies, including a film about an infamous unsolved murder of the time, the case of the Pyjama Girl, the first true crime movie ever made here.

It was, you see, his mission in life to resurrect the Australian film industry – when only ‘bugger all were ours’ on screen. He would attract investors, his hunt angels, by whatever means possible and on a shoot he might use an actor in 27 different roles, or even himself in shot-reverse-shot in the action of Rats of Tobruk.

Filmed in black and white, by a witty and assured camera with a mind of its own, in a style which evokes movies of the time, Hunt Angels cheerfully celebrates its artifice. I particularly like a shot of Rupe stealing across a sawtooth building under a cheesy moon, on their way to the studio to break in and film a pilot.

At one level, Hunt Angels is a step-by-step lesson, with many asides to the audience, on how to succeed in the movie business, but by really trying. Rupe was never inhibited by any doubts about his own capabilities, and it’s hard not to like him all the same.

4 stars