The terrorist attack that claimed 89 lives on Nov. 13, 2015 in Paris’ Bataclan theater was probably the first time most had heard of the rock act playing that night — one whose in-joke monicker was lost on a few clueless evangelicals who used the tragedy to decry the consequences of “Satan’s music.” (While their lyrics are cheerfully all for sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, their musical genre is most definitely not death metal.) Colin Hanks’ documentary “Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis” focuses on the titular California-based band’s principal creative relationship between co-founders Jesse Hughes and Josh Homme, the band’s connection with their French fans, and the mutual recovery that ensues after suffering the horrific trauma of terrorism. It’s an engrossing, ultimately poignant chronicle that will launch a limited theatrical release Feb. 10, then debut on HBO Feb. 13.
Those looking for a standard rock-doc won’t find it here; there’s just limited performance footage and no real discussion of EODM’s peculiar appeal, whose insinuating, tongue-in-cheek mix of garage rock, funk and other elements is hinted at by album titles like “Death by Sexy.” But after a brief first glimpse of the Bataclan catastrophe, the first half hour or so does offer the band’s backstory, which starts with Hughes and Hommes’ shared childhood in the Palm Desert area. They stayed best friends as Hommes rose to early ’90s indie-rock stardom in the band Kyuss.
Hommes was already busy with the more commercially viable Queens of the Stone Age — probably the best point of musical comparison to EODM, though each band has its individual style — when Hughes’ conventional family-life path derailed in the face of spousal infidelity. In 1998, in desperate need of a fresh start, he tapped his inner rock star at Homme’s urging. They co-founded Eagles of Death Metal (and remain the group’s only permanent members amid a rotating roster of guest players), even if Homme’s duties with Queens of the Stone Age and other side projects have meant he’s an erratic presence at their raucous live shows.
Indeed, Hommes was in Southern California when the band played the Bataclan, a gig that by all accounts was going exceptionally well when three men with assault rifles began firing from the balcony on the sold-out crowd of about 1,500. While the band itself was able to get out of the line of fire, they were stuck just offstage watching as crew and audience members were shot and/or played dead in an effort to survive the attack. When the shooters both stopped to reload, some took the opportunity to flee. But for many the ordeal seemed endless, as the killers held concertgoers hostage after the initial massacre, then detonated suicide vests.
Hanks’ doc doesn’t go into detail about the attackers’ identities, affiliations or motives (the next day jihadist organization ISIL claimed responsibility), with just brief mention of the simultaneous hits on Parisian cafes, restaurants and outside of a soccer stadium. (In all, 130 were killed, and 368 injured.) The recollections of both Eagles tour personnel and several surviving fans featured here are vivid and harrowing. The film’s final section focuses on collective efforts to confront what happened by moving on and accepting other gigs, including U2’s invitation to play a stadium show three weeks after Bataclan.
, then resuming their interrupted European tour in December with a date at Paris’ Olympia on Feb. 16. (Homme was able to join them for the latter, his wife having conveniently given birth just in time for him to catch a plane.)
While there are numerous voices heard here, the film’s center is the enduring friendship between Homme and Hughes, their dynamic roughly that of straight-man and goofball. (Homme was able to rejoin the band for a Feb. 16 date at Paris’ Olympia, his wife having given birth just in time for him to catch a plane.) The two band mates each a degree of rock swagger (Homme calls Hughes “Vanity Smurf” for his preening), but they’re also heart-on-sleeve types for whom the term “bromance” might well have been invented; they’re utterly unabashed in admitting how much they love and depend upon each other. It’s an affection that’s palpably shared by and with their fan base.
Nos Amis” is expertly assembled, with a brisk but unhurried pace and above-average lensing by Boyd Hobbs. This being the era of smart phones, naturally there is fairly decent, presumably audience-shot footage of the Bataclan show itself, although the documentary refrains from including actual massacre imagery.