Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis (Our Friends) Reviewed By John Tatlock
, February 13th, 2017 10:47
Against all the odds, tonight's HBO documentary on the Paris Bataclan terror attack is a joyous and life-affirming thing, says John Tatlock. Contains mild spoilers
In February of 2016, Eagles of Death Metal frontman Jesse Hughes attracted criticism over comments in a 20-minute interview with French television station iTélé. Hughes, a second amendment advocate and NRA member, was asked if his views on gun control had changed in the wake of the ISIS-arranged massacre that had occurred at his band's show at Paris's Bataclan venue, just three months earlier.
"Did your French gun control stop a single fucking person from dying at the Bataclan?" he responded. "And if anyone can answer yes, I’d like to hear it, because I don’t think so. I think the only thing that stopped it was some of the bravest men that I’ve ever seen in my life charging head-first into the face of death with their firearms.
"And I hate it that it’s that way. I think the only way that my mind has been changed is that maybe that until nobody has guns everybody has to have them.
"Because I’ve never seen anyone that’s ever had one dead, and I want everyone to have access to them, and I saw people die that maybe could have lived, I don’t know."
In cold black and white text, this reads like an absurd macho posture; a fantasy of a wild west saloon bar shoot-out transplanted to a rock gig, with an unlikely army of pleasant middle class Parisian alt-rock fans bringing bloody retribution to the terrorists. Furthermore, these are generally unpopular ideas in the liberal-leaning world of music, and public feeling towards Hughes turned noticeably colder overnight.
Director Colin Hanks's film opens with footage of the show just before the attack, but cuts almost immediately to the beginning of the iTélé interview. Hughes, still visibly traumatised, is asked if he has a message for any of the survivors who were present. He briefly glances at the camera, and then resumes his shell-shocked thousand-yard stare into the middle distance, struggling for a response.
Shots of Hughes, lost for words and in considerable distress, become an uncomfortable and familiar sight over the next 85 minutes. The film spends the first third of its running time explaining the close, fraternal relationship between Hughes and Eagles co-founder Josh Homme, stretching back to high school in Palm Desert.
They make an unlikely pair, Homme a calm, urbane, 6'4", seemingly unflappable mountain of a man, and Hughes a skinny, twitchy, emotional, eccentric. Cutting back and forth between the two, we are told about their early lives and the events that led to the founding of the band. This might initially seem beside to the point to non-fans looking for material on the terror attacks, but it turns out to be an inspired move.
Eagles Of Death Metal's basic shtick has always been to embrace the utter ridiculousness of rock and roll, while at the same time performing it with utter sincerity. And this apparent contradiction, we see, is an outgrowth of Hughes's personality. He is a born entertainer, driven by a deep and abiding belief in the power of guitars and drums played really fucking loud.
And that's it. In no other parallel universe would a figure like Hughes be called upon to come up with a public response to a terrorist atrocity, and he is, unsurprisingly, not well equipped to do so. Because, well, who is? This is not to suggest he isn't intelligent or thoughtful - he's both of those things - but he's also just a guy who took to the stage in Paris on a November evening expecting to play his guitar really fucking loud, do a bit of screaming and shouting and jumping up and down, and get on the bus and head to the next town.
After taking its time to get to the grisly main event, the film begins to weave in interview clips with survivors from the audience. There's almost no footage of the attack, but from the harrowing eyewitness accounts, this is not something anyone would ever want to see.
The overlapping descriptions from band, crew, and audience members really bring home the "terror" part of the abstract term "terror attack". This middle third of the film gives its interview subjects equal weight, and begins to become less a film about Hughes and his band, and more one about the appalling shared experience of all present, and their various attempts to come to terms with it.
Hughes in particular, though, seems haunted not only by what he saw, but also by a sense of responsibility to the audience and the rest of the band. Of course, he was powerless to do anything, and he does obviously understand this. But while I disagree entirely with his stance on gun control, I can see how experiencing such powerlessness in the face of such violent malevolence could potentially harden someone's position on the question.
For a survivor to dwell on ways the attackers could have been prevented from claiming 89 lives inside the venue and dozens more elsewhere, is psychologically hard to resist. And however much I disagree with his conclusions, I find it impossible to feel anything but sympathy for him.
We eventually see the footage of the notorious gun control interview, and observing Hughes haltingly splutter his words out while fighting back tears casts it in a whole new light. He's still wrong, by my reckoning, but I can't make myself judge him harshly. This experience should have never been in the cards for this humorous, giddy oddball, and it has cast a long shadow on him.
The final third of the film documents the band's return to play in Paris, three months after the attack, with any survivors who wished to attend invited along for free. And against all the odds, it's a joyous and life-affirming thing. As with the rest of the film, you don't need to be an Eagles fan to find yourself punching the air. Watching the band and the audience get this moment of delayed catharsis is wonderful to behold, and a righteous middle finger raised in the direction of death-cult wannabe theocrats everywhere.
Eagles Of Death Metal - Nos Amis airs on HBO tonight [February 13]