We Die Young

Movie review by
Danny Brogan, Common Sense Media
We Die Young Movie Poster Image
Brutal Van Damme film is heavy on violence, drugs, language.
  • R
  • 2019
  • 92 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

All of the characters -- including kids -- are involved in the drug trade: be that as dealers, traffickers, or users. Characters regularly use violence and murder to get their own way. The importance of family is a theme that runs throughout the movie.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Daniel -- a war veteran -- self-medicates to cope with his PTSD. He suffers from violent flashbacks, but also shows a caring side. Lucas is heavily involved in gang life. He wants to prevent his young brother, Miguel, from choosing the same life. All of the gang members are from El Salvador or are of Salvadoran descent. Female characters are largely sidelined.


Violence throughout, including beatings, stabbings, and shootings. Characters are regularly killed, often brutally and with much bloodshed. In one scene, someone is dragged through the streets half-naked by a motorbike. They are then slashed and stabbed repeatedly before being dragged away. As part of an initiation process, a ten-year-old child is repeatedly punched and kicked by a group of adults. A character is raped. A car slams two passengers on a motorbike against a wall, killing them both. A series of flashbacks depict scenes from a war -- characters are shot in the head and back, and a young child is seen lying dead on the floor. A dog is shot dead.


Brief flirting.


Uses of "motherf----r," "f---ing," "s--t," "bulls--t," "bastard," "ass," and "bitches." "Goddamn" is also used an exclamation.


A character who is unable to talk, uses a voice app on an Apple iPhone to communicate with people.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drugs are regularly sold and consumed. Characters are referred to as "junkies." A minor character is seen dead on the street, suggesting they died of an overdose. There is some drinking at a wedding. Characters smoke and one is urged to give up.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that We Die Young is a violent action movie about gangs and drugs, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Most of the violence is brutal and graphic with characters stabbed, shot, and beaten to death. As part of his initiation into gang life, ten-year-old Miguel (Nicholas Sean Johnny) is punched and kicked by a group of men. In another scene, a character is dragged by a motorbike before being slashed and stabbed to death. During a wedding, a guest is attacked and raped, but is saved when Rincon (David Castaneda) walks in and beats the rapist to death. Daniel (Van Damme) is a war veteran suffering from PTSD who, due to an injury, can now only communicate via a voice app on his phone. He has regular flashbacks to the war -- in one we see a young boy shot dead on the floor. Daniel is one of many characters who buys drugs from 14-year-old Lucas (Elijah Rodriguez). The female cast is largely neglected and the gang members -- all from Salvadoran descent -- are stereotypes seen umpteen times before. There is strong profanity throughout, including regular use of "motherf----r," "s--t," "ass," and "bitches."

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What's the story?

WE DIE YOUNG tells the story of 14-year-old Lucas (Elijah Rodriguez) who has been drawn into gang life in Washington, D.C. When his younger brother, Miguel (Nicholas Sean Johnny) is recruited by the gang, Lucas decides it's time for them to both leave. But after losing a large amount of the gang's money, the pair may no longer have a choice. Luckily for the brothers, a local war veteran called Daniel (Jean-Claude Van Damme) -- who Lucas sells drugs to -- is on hand to help.

Is it any good?

This movie starts off at such a fast pace, the initial reaction is to strap in and enjoy, but unfortunately it soon runs out of gas. Fans of Van Damme will be pleased to see "The Muscles from Brussels" on the big screen. But while we don't expect to see the now veteran action star doing his trademark high-kicks, here we get little more than a shuffling, hand-gesturing performance. It's a shame, as the character of Daniel -- a PTSD-suffering, drug-addicted war veteran, whose only means of communication is via a voice app -- is an interesting premise. But one that perhaps would have been better suited for a more accomplished actor.

By We Die Young's finale -- a mass shoot 'em up -- any sense of empathy towards any of the characters has long since disappeared. Which is a relief, as the camera work is so jittery and the action so chaotic, it's difficult to tell who dies and who survives. Lingering shots of the Capitol Building and Washington Monument suggest a deeper sociopolitical commentary that is never actually explored. Instead, what's left is a shell of a movie whose strongest components have been seen countless times before -- only done better.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in We Die Young. Which parts were gruesome and which were exciting? Were there any consequence? What's the impact of media violence on kids?

  • Discuss the gang culture in the movie. What encourages young people to join gangs? What can be done to help prevent people joining gangs?

  • Daniel suffers from PTSD. What do you understand of this condition? What causes it?

  • What role did women play in the movie? Why might that be problematic?

  • Discuss the strong language in We Die Young. Does it seem necessary or excessive? What does it contribute to the movie?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love action

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