Van Damme As A Mute War Veteran

What do you get when you mix Jean-Claude Van Damme with a lackluster script about an MS-13 gang operating in Washington, D.C.? Writer and director Lior Gellar’s We Die Young has Van Damme cast in a side role far removed from his normal action fare. The main stars are an intense MS-13 gang-lord played by David Castañeda (Sicario: Day of the Soldado) and a young drug runner played by Elijah Rodriguez.

Lucas (Elijah Rodriguez) is a smart, but still only fourteen, drug runner for MS-13 on the streets of Washington, D.C. Rincon (David Castañeda) is the local gang leader, a rough thug feared by friends and foes alike. Rincon has taken Lucas under his wing, recognizing the lad’s potential in the gang.

Lucas is aware the gang life he’s chosen is short and brutal, hoping to keep his ten-year-old brother Miguel away from joining MS-13. Lucas dreams of sending Miguel to a baseball camp, far away from D.C. It’s a trite backstory that still wins the audience over with its heart-in-the-right-place message.

… the low-budget production rarely stands still with blurry footage and shaky camera syndrome

Van Damme plays an Afghanistan war veteran named Daniel that lives in the predominantly Latino neighborhood run by Rincon’s gang. Daniel suffers from PTSD and has lost the use of his voice from an old war injury. That takes some getting used to in We Die Young. Van Damme doesn’t have a single line of dialogue in the movie. His character needs one of those text-to-voice speech apps for communication. It’s hard completely buying his character in this particular time and setting.

We Die Young is a gritty gang thriller despite the presence of the young Lucas and Miguel. Think any number of trite cliches you’ve seen over the years from Boyz n the Hood to more recent gang movies. Gellar’s movie is loaded with them. It is also filled with sloppy direction and erratic camera work. The low-budget production rarely stands still with blurry footage and shaky camera syndrome.

There’s a decent story buried somewhere here but the uneven filmmaking leaves something to be desired. David Castañeda is a revelation as the tough Rincon, showing a tender side to his tough character that a lesser actor wouldn’t have been able to pull off. The child actors aren’t asked to do much heavy lifting, which is a good thing.

If you are only watching We Die Young for Van Damme, this is a completely atypical role and film in the star’s filmography. It’s best avoided if you are only looking for his usual action movies. Everything about this movie screams an indie production that was focused on the brutal life of an MS-13 drug runner, and that Van Damme was added at the last minute for star power.


Lionsgate’s transfer is a perfectly fine rendering of We Die Young for Blu-ray. The 2.40:1 presentation has its moments but the direct-to-video film reveals its limited budget with erratic cinematography.

There’s enough definition and clarity for modern video. However, the blurred focus and shaky camera footage lead to few extended moments of pristine video. The 1080P video has a mixture of soft and sharp material. Fine detail offers texture when necessary; you might actually get bored and try to decipher the various gang tattoos.

The 92-minute main feature is encoded in sharp, transparent AVC video on a BD-25. There are no real compression artifacts. The transfer shows no signs of processing or filtering.


The 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack features a blend of Latin-flavored Rap music and a few original Spanish songs. The audio design and mix are fairly primitive. Dialogue is occasionally overwhelmed by the score, getting lost in the mix. This is loud audio that has little sense of space and separation.

Optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles play in a white font, inside the widescreen presentation.


The low-budget offering from Lionsgate receives an uninteresting audio commentary and a couple of featurettes.

Lionsgate includes a digital copy redeemable on a couple of services, including VUDU in HDX quality. Having abandoned UltraViolet and still frozen out of Movies Anywhere, the digital copy loses some value.

Commentary With Writer/Director Lior Gellar and Actors Elijah Rodriquez and Nicholas Sean Johnny – It’s rare to hear children on a commentary and this group commentary doesn’t offer much from the child actors, as they only occasionally offer up their opinions. What we get is Lior Gellar describing how wonderful everything is in the movie.

Storyboard-to-Screen Comparison (04:38 in HD) – Crude storyboards play alongside the several scenes they depict from the movie.

On the Set of We Die Young (10:16 in HD) – Behind-the-scenes footage from the set. It’s a fine glimpse into the raw filmmaking and how the cast interacted with the crew.

We Die Young Trailer (02:02 in HD)

Trailer Gallery (07:26 in HD) – A series of movie trailers for Bent, Reprisal, Air Strike and Backtrace. These also play before the main menu.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

We Die Young
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  • Extras


An atypical Van Damme action movie where he’s really not the center of attention.

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