If you watch “We Die Young,” a new mix of a coming-of-age story and a gangster drama, it’s probably because Jean-Claude Van Damme is the main star. Van Damme, who is one of the few 1980s action stars who has thought about how to age well on screen in recent years, is not in “We Die Young” very much. Even so, Van Damme’s performance as the mute, Oxycontin-addicted ex-marine Daniel might not have been better with a bigger part.
But Daniel is the most interesting part of “We Die Young,” a familiar story about a reluctant teen gang member named Lucas (Elijah Rodriguez) and his seemingly impossible quest to leave Mara Salvatrucha (aka MS-13), a group of Central American criminals who have been linked to drug trafficking and child prostitution in real life. David Castaeda, who plays the cruel MS-13 gang leader Rincon, does a good job of making the story of Lucas believable at times. Castaeda and Van Damme steal the show, but this doesn’t make up for how often writer/director Lior Geller uses racial stereotypes and gangster movie tropes.
All You Need To Know About The Film
We Die Young was directed by Lior Geller and written by Geller and Andrew Friedman. It stars Jean-Claude Van Damme (The Bouncer, The Last Mercenary), Elijah Rodriguez (Sicario: Day of the Soldado), Nicholas Sean Johnny (Yes Day), Charlie MacGechan (Brash Young Turks), and David Castaneda (The Tax Collector). It’s about a young boy and his brother who are trying to get by in the gangland of Washington, D.C., and how they meet a war veteran who could change their lives.
The story of We Die Young is pretty ordinary, but it’s still interesting. Lucas (Rodriguez) is a boy who works for the leader of the MS-13 gang, Ricon (Castaneda), so that he can stay alive and keep his younger brother Miguel (Johnny) safe and away from the life that Ricon is heading toward. Lucas sells to a lot of people, including an ex-marine named Daniel (Van Damme) who Lucas has become friends.
After being told to bring some drugs to a certain place, Lucas sees Miguel being “jumped-in,” so he steps in and drops some drugs there. This upsets Jester (MacGechan), who was following Lucas even though Rincon told him not to. Daniel is taking a car he worked on at his job as a mechanic for a test drive. He runs into the brothers, and Daniel decides to help them leave the city.
In We Die Young, the characters are very good. Lucas is an interesting main character who helps bring the audience down into the dirty world of crime by showing how someone could end up there or even start out there. Miguel is also a strong character. He wants to impress his brother by working as a drug courier, even though Lucas doesn’t like the idea. Their older brother died in Afghanistan, their father left them, and they never hear anything about their mother.
It is saddening stuff but never feels unbelievable. Both of them want to play baseball, and they are treading water until they can get out of the gang world. Daniel, a war veteran who lost his voice in battle and is now a drug addict, changes when he sees the death and tragedy he tried to avoid happening again. Rincon is also good because he has a personal life and isn’t just a bad guy for no reason. Van Damme, Johnny, and Castaneda all give great performances, but Rodriguez and MacGechan leave a lot to be desired.
We Die Young’s drama is always about people. It never tries to make a bigger, more grandiose impression on the audience to win them over. Even though Rincon’s operations outside of the city are briefly mentioned, the focus is always on the people behind it all. The relationship between the two brothers is strong because they treat each other like brothers and look out for each other. The younger brother tries to be like the older one to make him like him, even though he doesn’t have to.
A veteran’s point of view is looked at, including how he could physically go back to the US from Afghanistan and still not feel like he’s home, seeing death and struggle similar to what he saw while he was overseas and having to deal with an injury that has made life even harder. It is a good job.
The movie starts to lose its technical edge. The story, characters, setting, and most of the acting are all good. However, there are some things about We Die Young that make it hard to watch. The camera is held by hand during action scenes and regular photography, which would be fine if the camera was held steady. During the action, there is a lot of over-editing that isn’t even necessary. Since JCVD doesn’t do any martial arts in this and the gunfights are simple, it feels like the movie is trying to fit in with others even though it doesn’t need to.
We Die Young is a good movie that introduces a new villain while keeping the drama on a very human level. This makes a good movie with some annoying problems even more frustrating. It’s a good movie, but the shaky camera and some wrong feelings about the characters keep it from being a great movie.