Until the Paris Terrorist attack on November 13, 2015 where their concert at the Bataclan was targeted leaving 89 dead, for non-fans Eagles of Death Metal, if they had heard of them at all, were mostly thought of as Josh Homme's other band. Queens of the Stone Age, Homme's central musical outlet, has been a staple of the American hard rock scene for two decades, while Eagles of Death Metal was the weird side project where he co-wrote the songs, was the rhythm section, and hardly ever toured with the band. If the first third of Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis tells the truth, the whole thing was started basically as a favor to a friend.
That friend is Jesse Hughes, a wiry, tattoo covered and demonstratively emotive man who had been Josh Homme's best friend since high school. While Homme was off being successful with his music, Hughes had tried to live the square life. When that imploded, Homme told Jesse to write 10 songs - if they were any good they would record them together. In Homme's words: "He wrote 50 songs. And 52 of them were great."
Essentially telling its story in three parts, Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis, directed by Colin Hanks in his second feature-length documentary (he also made All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records) introduces us to these strange musicians from Palm Desert, and in particular focuses on Jesse Hughes and his deep connection to his fans. The Bataclan attack is placed in this context: as a personal attack on the free expression embodied in rock and roll, on the connection between the performer and the audience.
Eagles of Death Metal, despite the name, are a very straight-forward rock band. Their songs are deliberately frivolous. Jesse Hughes often comes on stage wearing a cape, he struts, he yells about how much he loves his fans. The title Nos Amis comes from one of the last things he said before the shooting begin: "our friends", and he constantly refers to his fans as friends. They are not the kind of band who want or need to be saddled with the weighty issues of terrorism or complex political messaging. They want to rock.
Two things this documentary is not is a concert film, nor an examination of the political underpinnings of the attack. The central section of the film has both surviving fans and band members recounting what they experienced as the attack began, and what they saw. It's a harrowing description of horror and desperation and above all, confusion. As Jesse recounts his movements and near-misses with the gunmen (including watching a fan killed right in front of him) he becomes overwhelmed with a sense of survivor's guilt and questions what else he might have done, or what mistakes he made. Guitarist Dave Catching ended up stuck in a bathroom, with men trying to batter down the door, then blowing themselves up right outside of it.
There's some footage of the Bataclan concert from before the attack, and some audio of the initial gunfire, though of course there's no ghoulish footage of any victims. Bataclan wasn't the only target that night. There were also suicide bombers at a soccer stadium and attacks on cafes and restaurants. The only mention of this is when Bono, who is interviewed alongside the Edge, described the attacks as an assault on several deep aspects of French culture: food, football, and music. U2 were to perform in Paris on the day after the attacks, and when those concerts were rescheduled, they invited the Eagles of Death Metal to share the stage with them.
Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis is not about the terrorist attack in general, but just the very specific way it has affected the band and their fans and how they overcame it with a triumphant return concert in February, just three months after the attack. The film is structured as a very conventional narrative, with the friendship between Josh and Jesse at its heart. There's even a little late story crisis point where Josh might not be able to make it back to Paris for their concert, since his baby is due around the same time.
In other words, Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis is a perfectly serviceable, entertaining, and informative (if not deeply probative) documentary: many talking-head interviews, footage of people walking through airports and hugging, and some all-too-brief concert footage. It's not particularly multi-faceted, but since the band at its core is so deliberately playful and non-serious, maybe that's just what it should be.
Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis has been released on Blu-ray by Shout! Select. The only extra on disc is a trailer for the film.