Blu-ray Review: We Die Young (2019)

Now Available

Bookmark and Share

Swapping out Pulp Fiction's handling of Ezekiel 25:17 with the Shylock's Act 1, Scene 3 speech from Merchant of Venice, writer-director Lior Geller's crime movie We Die Young kicks things off like a cinematic cover band looking for new ways to play old hits.

And while it lays this approach on pretty heavily from its informative (if wildly over-the-top) opening voice-over sequence which recalls both Casino and City of God up through the violence that erupts amid a holy celebration in its Godfather style denouement, hang in there long enough and you just might be surprised by how well Young works overall.

Retooling what appears to be the same basic plot of Geller’s award-winning 2007 Israeli short Roads, the filmmaker transfers its story about an ex-soldier's involvement in a fourteen-year-old drug runner's quest to keep his ten year old brother from following in his footsteps to the MS-13 filled streets of Washington D.C.

Haunted by his experiences in Afghanistan, which have left him wounded both physically without the ability to speak and mentally with nightmares, an Oxy habit, and PTSD, Jean-Claude Van Damme's Daniel spends his days working as a neighborhood mechanic just trying to get by.

Finding himself falling back on his old training when he catches sight of Lucas (Elijah Rodriguez) and his younger brother Miguel (Nicholas Sean Johnny) being hunted by the upper echelons of MS-13, he puts everything on the line to get the boys away from the gang and on their way to safety.

Produced by its star Jean-Claude Van Damme, We Die Young gives the actor his best role since 2008's JCVD. Reminiscent of Martin Campbell's underrated 2017 effort The Foreigner, which features a similarly stellar turn by JCVD contemporary Jackie Chan as a humbled man who, wearied by life, decides to act rather than be pushed by the wayside, while Young is easily the B-movie here, the two have so much in common (both onscreen and off) that they work even better together as a double feature.

Underplaying that cocky charisma that fueled some of the movies of his early '90s heyday by relying instead on his strength as an actor (again like Chan in The Foreigner) although the film's breakneck pacing leaves little time to develop its characters, Van Damme lends a sense of gravitas to Daniel that helps give Young a moment to catch its breath.

Similarly excellent in another role that deserves more than just a few expository speeches here and there to literally tell the viewer who he is, how he's connected to the boys, and what that means, The Umbrella Academy's David CastaƱeda shines as Rincon, the "First Word" or head of the gang.

Trying to give his own beloved younger sibling — his disabled sister — a better life away from the streets of D.C. by preparing for her wedding, just like the complicated Daniel, Rincon is proof that Geller isn't content to paint everyone as simply good or evil with the same brush used in the classic westerns which gave birth to gangster fare.

Linking the two sides together courtesy of an out-of-options Lucas, unfortunately there's no way to pay off on all of the supporting players and subplots that Geller hoped to create in a ninety-two minute running time.

While perhaps Roads would be better served adapted yet again as a TV miniseries — particularly to offer more of the Latin American characters greater depth and give the film's many moral and ethical quandaries time to expound upon — miles better than a mere copycat tapestry of contemporary crime movie classics, Young is elevated by well-staged action sequences and one hell of a turn by Van Damme.

Text ©2019, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.