Michael Scott

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We Die Young


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Movie: :3.5stars:
Video: :4stars:
Audio: :4stars:
Extras: :2.5stars:
Final Score: :3.5stars:



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Movie

Being a massive die hard Van Damme film, I have been eagerly waiting for We Die Young as it was supposed to be one of his better films to date. I’m not ashamed to say I grew up watching Van Damme ever since I was a 10 year old boy, rewatching VHS tapes of Bloodsport and Universal Soldier till they literally fell apart from use. While not everything Van Damme does is gold (especially after he went DTV), he’s one of three actors that I collect EVERYTHING they do, no matter how bad, due to how much I enjoy his screen presence. We Die Young is actually one of the few recent films of his that was shot here in the U.S.A. instead of some place like Romania or Bulgaria, and it also happened to get a limited theatrical release during January before coming to Blu-ray, DVD and VOD this week. This one may not be the pinnacle of his career (I still say that’s the early 90s for him), but We Die Young is a massive step up from his regular action fare, and gives more depth and maturity to his character (as well as a unique twist that I’ll mention later in the review) than seen in a lot of his works.

In the slums of Washington DC the underground is ruled by the single most vile and violent gang to have ever been introduced to the United States, the infamous MS-13. Lucas (Elijah Rodriguez) is a 14 year old drug runner for Rincon (David Castaneda), the leader of the MS-13 cell in DC. Lucas knows his fate is sealed with the gang, but he wants to make sure that his younger brother, Miguel (Nicholas Sean Johnny) doesn’t fall into the same life that he fell into. Busting his hump daily to provide, Lucas realizes that it’s all just a sham when, against his will, Lucas is inducted into MS-13 to act as a drug boy at the ripe young age of 10 years old. Entrusted with the biggest drug run of his life, Lucas defies Rincon and decides to grab Miguel and make a run for it.

Simultaneously we see a beaten down veteran named Daniel (Jean Claude Van Damme) who buys pain pills off of Lucas due to the V.A. cutting his dose down (an all too common thing in today’s panic about the “opioid crisis”), while helping out the local repair shop to make ends meet. A meek and humble man, Daniel comes into Lucas and Miguel’s life when he catches them running from the MS-13 gang members. Jumping into overdrive the ex Marine does what he can to save the lives of the two young boys, putting his own life on the line and bringing out his own military skills to make sure the gang doesn’t keep their hooks in the children.
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We Die Young was one of those films where die hard Van Damme fans were worried that the veteran action star would be side lined in the film. The trailer made it pretty obvious that Miguel and Lucas were the two stars, but we had held up hope that Van Damme would be more than just a cameo, and luckily for us we were right. Van Damme’s Daniel may not be THE star, but he plays a very hefty role in getting the two children to safety. Jean Claude has been a DECENT actor in his younger days, but it was his good looks, muscles, and natural charisma that rose him to action super star. In his later days as an actor he has had to fine tune his skills and actually grow as an actor to get anywhere. Sure, he does the typical foreign shot action films that require nothing but a gun and a blank face, but in recent years he’s done some really good character dramas like JCVD, Pound of Flesh, The Bouncer, and Until Death. All movies where he’s played a more complex character than simply the hired muscle. Here he does it completely by facial expressions and body language as Daniel is unable to speak due to a war time injury that landed him where he is. Van Damme does a great job at portraying the good guy who’s suffering himself, but wants to put the good of someone else above his own. He’s not wildly complex, but Daniel is the guy you want to root for, and the fight scene at the very end doesn’t try to make the 59 year old actor be any super hero. It’s short, nasty, brutal, and shows his strength of will rather than his muscle mass.

While Van Damme is great, the movie really revolves around Lucas and the head of MS-13, Rincon himself. The tale is really an urban gang story with a Van Damme twist, so be aware that this is more thuggish and brutal than many of his normal films. They really toned down the REAL brutality of MS-13 (they hint at it, but try not to put it all out on screen), as the real stuff those guys do is beyond brutal. Putting that on screen would be akin to a SAW movie almost. Something they also attribute to Rincon. He’s supposed to be the biggest, baddest MS-13 member on the East Coast, but they soften him up enough so that he’s relatable, which turns out to be one of the poorer choices in the film. Lucas and Miguel are perfectly relatable as kids, but Rincon is too romanticized, even in his most brutal gangster form, to really be believable as an MS-13 member. It’s not a wild thing, but it is enough to let you know that this is Hollywood at work here.




Rating:

Rated R for Violence, Language and Some Drug Material




Video: :4stars:

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This once again follows the Lionsgate rule of 4, meaning straight 4’s across the board for audio and video encodes. The 2.35:1 AVC image is a very stable digital image. One that does well, but never really excels at anything. The picture is fairly neutral for the most part, with some earth tones and sepia highlights to give the picture a grim and grimy texture. Primary colors are bright and shiny, such as Lucas’s red jacket, or Miguel’s blue one. Blood is actually rather realistic for once, and fine details range from good to exceptional. There’s some noise in the darker night shots (such as the train yard shootout at the end), and the digital photography at night gets a bit murky, but other than those small issues, We Die Young is a very capable encode that is more than pleasing to the eye.






Audio: :4stars:
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The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track follows suit, with a track that hits all of the proper check boxes without being truly exceptional. For a goodly portion of the movie the track is extremely front heavy. The dialog, the action, and the hustle and bustle of Washington DC are all locked up front in the mains and center, while the surrounds get a moderate amount of activity from the urban flavored score. The last action battle between the Feds and the MS-13 members really lights things up though, with the gunfire and explosions and general chaos feeding pretty evenly through all 6 speakers. The LFE is tight and clean, but never really hits exceptionally deep. It’s there, and it’s there in spades, but the depth of the bass is never really felt as much as heard. It’s a good action track, and for a simple DVT (or almost DTV) movie it does quite well for itself.





Extras: :2.5stars:
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• Commentary with Director Lior Geller and actors Elijah Rodriguez and Nicholas Sean Johnny

Storyboard to Screen Comparison
• One the Set of We Die Young
• We Die Young
theatrical trailer
Lionsgate Previews









Final Score: :3.5stars:

We Die Young is an interesting character drama (with some brutal action scenes) for Van Damme, but this really shines due to Elijah Rodriguez. It’s his story with Van Damme playing second fiddle, and the movie is a lot better than I anticipated. There’s some choppy action scenes, but the battles are brutal, the message simple and the to the point, and Van Damme plays one of the more unique roles in his recent history. I really liked where they went with the story (although the toning down of MS-13 leader Rincon was a bit out of place) and the Lionsgate Blu-ray is very solid in the technical specs department. The extras are a bit slim, but this is still a very solid watch if you’re a Van Damme film, and even a very decent watch for fans of urban dramas.




Technical Specifications:

Starring: Jean Claude Van Damme, Elijah Rodriguez, David Castaneda, Nicholas Sean Johnny, Charlie MacGechan, Joana Metrass, Kerry Bennett, Jim Caesar
Directed by: Lior Geller
Written by: Lior Geller
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Studio: Lionsgate
Rated: R
Runtime: 93 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: April 9th, 2019






Recommendation: Very Solid Watch.

 

tripplej

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Thanks for the review. I am a fan of Jean Claude Van Damme so will check it out. :)
 

Michael Scott

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this is one of his better ones in years (inside the U.S. that is, there are a few of his really good ones that haven't made it to U.S. home video sadly)
 

Todd Anderson

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Any scenes where he's doing the splits between chairs?
 

Michael Scott

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lol, not at this age :greengrin:
 

Todd Anderson

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My AV System  
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OPPO UDP-203
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SVS Ultra Towers
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SVS Ultra Center
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SVS Ultra Surround
Surround Back Speakers
SVS Ultra Bookshelf
Front Height Speakers
SVS Prime Elevation
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SVS Prime Elevation
Subwoofers
dual SVS SB16s + dual PSA XS30s
Other Speakers or Equipment
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Splits between walkers? :redgrin:
 

tripplej

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Todd, just for you.

lol

 
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