How Colin Hanks found the ‘emotional truth’ in Eagles of Death Metal’s return to Paris
When Colin Hanks approached members of Eagles of Death Metal with the idea of directing a documentary about their harrowing experience in Paris — the band was onstage at the Bataclan theater in 2015 when terrorists burst in and killed 89 concertgoers — drummer Josh Homme’s first response was to warn him off.
“‘My advice to you is: Don’t do this,’” Homme told Hanks, best known for his acting work in television show such as “Fargo” and “Life in Pieces.” “‘If you could stay away from that night and those events in any way, shape or form — if you have the luxury of that — you should do it.’”
Hanks didn’t stay away; he was convinced he could help the Palm Desert group “make something positive out of a very horrible situation,” as he put it recently. But the director, who hoped to follow Eagles of Death Metal as the band returned to Paris three months after the attack, met Homme’s warning with one of his own.
“I said, ‘You guys have to want to do this,’” Hanks recalled. “Going through a difficult chapter of your life is hard enough. To then have a camera in your face while you’re doing it? I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy’s dog.”
An unusual pitch, to be sure. But if both sides’ doubts about making the movie lead you to expect a result that is pinched and tentative, what’s remarkable about “Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis” is its warmth and generosity of spirit. Set to air Monday night on HBO, Hanks’ documentary feels less like a project anyone was pushed into than like a much-needed refuge.
“It took me a long time to be able to watch it,” Homme said last month in Palm Springs, where he, Hanks and Eagles frontman Jesse Hughes had gathered for an interview ahead of the movie’s premiere at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. “I would take a bite and go…,” and here the drummer approximated the look of someone about to throw up.
“But when I finally did, it helped me,” he continued. “The bad part of this can never be taken away, but that’s only the beginning of a sentence. It’s not the end.”
The bad part of this can never be taken away, but that’s only the beginning of a sentence. It’s not the end.
— Drummer Josh Homme
One of the more highly visible acts in the desert rock scene that also includes Homme’s band Queens of the Stone Age, Eagles of Death Metal was midway through a concert at the Bataclan on Nov. 13, 2015, when three terrorists tied to Islamic State opened fire on the crowd. The musicians managed to escape, though the group’s merchandise manager, Nick Alexander, was killed. (Homme, who tours intermittently with Eagles, was at home in California, a fact he says tortured him at the time.)
The band mostly avoided the media in the weeks after the attack, speaking only to Vice News for a video in which the members recounted the experience in brutal detail. Reporters just wanted a piece of the story, recalled Homme, who contended his wife and children had been hounded at the kids’ school. Hughes also was wary of getting “burned” again, he said, following an earlier documentary pre-dating the attack called “The Redemption of the Devil” that presented Hughes as a cartoonish gun nut.
But Hanks was different, both men said. Homme and the director met a few years ago at a Queens of the Stone Age show and quickly became pals; in Palm Springs, the three joked easily about music, movies and the nerdy enthusiasm that Hanks’ famous father, Tom, displayed during a recent guest spot on the NPR show “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!”
Hanks’ idea for a movie, they said, was different too: not a detached run-through of the night’s events or a lurid piece of “clickbait,” as Homme put it, but a more personal story built around Homme and Hughes, whose friendship began decades ago when the former defended the latter from a school bully.
What the director was proposing in asking to accompany the band as it played the Olympia theater in Paris in February 2016 — a gig to which the Eagles of Death Metal had invited survivors of the Bataclan show — was to capture “the experience … on a human level,” Hanks said, with an emphasis on its “emotional truth.”
That’s not unlike what he did in his previous documentary, 2015’s “All Things Must Pass,” a surprisingly tender look at the history of Tower Records that Homme and Hughes had admired. So after getting over their initial resistance, the musicians agreed to take part.
Hanks’ role as a friend — and his avowed goal to make “Nos Amis” (which means “our friends” in French) a positive statement — meant he didn’t dig into some of the complicated questions around the horror at the Bataclan. We don’t really see Hughes elaborate, for instance, on controversial comments he’s made regarding French gun control laws or whether members of the venue’s security team were in on the attack.
“I was in shock, and maybe my filter wasn’t in place the way it should’ve been,” the singer said in Palm Springs, though he also insisted that some of his words had been taken out of context in order to juice headlines.
“I think the entities will do what their nature is to do,” he said of the media.
In other ways, though, the film clearly benefits from the sense of safety Hanks provided, as in a devastating scene in which the camera follows Hughes and Homme into a private dressing room following the band’s concert at the Olympia. Hanks’ close access gives the film a diaristic quality it shares with “One More Time With Feeling,” director Andrew Dominik’s haunting 2016 documentary about Nick Cave and the death of Cave’s 15-year-old son.
Asked what it was like to see himself in such a vulnerable state, Hughes said, “I didn’t realize how shattered I was. I look crushed.”
But Hanks’ portrait articulates the frontman’s feelings about what happened and how it affected him better than he’s able to, he added.
“A lot of my friends around the world, they kind of held on to the moment until they were going to see me for the first time,” he said, his voice cracking at the memory. “It would be months down the line and they’d want to talk about it, and I got good at becoming very sensitive to that. It would’ve been easy for me to just go, ‘Look, dude…’ But I could see they needed to explain their thoughts and feelings on it. So I didn’t want to be like that to them.
“But now anyone I haven’t seen can see the movie and we can just hug.”
Your essential guide to the arts in L.A.
Get Carolina A. Miranda's weekly newsletter for what's happening, plus openings, critics' picks and more.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.