I was recommended this film earlier this week and I was surprised that I hadn’t heard anything about it. Then again, when you are dealing with a film whose main villain is MS-13 gang members, it all begins to make sense. Who would have thought a film where Jean-Claude Van Damme doesn’t say a word would be so gripping? Well, believe it or not, he isn’t even the main focus of the film despite the poster and promos. No, We Die Young focuses on the bigger picture of the war on drugs and those caught in the crosshairs, and perhaps that was a mistake.
The film is set in the ghetto of Washington D.C., the nation’s capital. The poor and drug-ridden neighborhood is completely controlled by MS-13 and their drug network. Their drug mule is a teenager named Lucas (Rodriguez), whose responsibility is to deliver the drugs and collect payment. One day, his naive little brother tries to join the gang and Lucas gets on the leader’s bad side after a run goes bad. With every MS-13 member in the city after him, his only ally is a disabled veteran (Van Damme) who happens to be one of his customers with a dangerous past.
Couple things to note, if you under the impression this is a Van Damme beat em up film, you’ll be disappointed because it isn’t. As stated before, he isn’t even the main character here, that would be Lucas. The problem with that is the actor playing Lucas isn’t very good. Elijah Rodriguez who you may have seen in Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a young up and comer but he is not ready to lead his own film and it shows. Wooden acting and an unconvincing delivery drags down the film from being so much better. The story is great in its setup as it is both ruthless and sympathetic to the everyday people who are caught up in all sides of the drug war. In easily one of the most dynamic performances in his career, Van Damme doesn’t do much punching or kicking but sells his pain through emotion and heart. You finally get to see him in action during the final act but even then the story gets a bit too melodramatic especially in its final minutes leaving you with a movie with positive themes but a bunch of missteps.
The grittiness in its storytelling and cinematography are the two biggest pluses but Van Damme is why the movie works. Unfortunately, you don’t get enough of it to completely satisfy you but if you are looking for a decent title on VOD, We Die Young is certainly worth a look.