We Die Young: the ending, explained

We Die Young

Life is already a handful for 14-year-old Lucas who’s trying to take care of his 10-year-old little brother. Add to that, he’s trying to earn a living through drug dealing while making sure that his little brother doesn’t follow in his footsteps. We Die Young, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, is a thrilling story that follows the best and worst day in Lucas’ life.

Caution: Spoilers ahead

Lucas’ life as a member of the drug cartel

The movie kickstarts right in the middle of the action with Lucas and Miguel riding in the back of a car with shooters on their tail. Lucas begins a voiceover narration as the scene cuts to the beginning of the story.

Lucas lives in DC in an area run by the Mara Salvatrucha gang. Jester is their second-in-command, and Rincon, his cousin, is the leader. Jester hates Lucas for his close ties with Rincon.

Lucas collects protection money for the gang from the shopkeepers and sells drugs. He meets Daniel, played by Jean-Claude Van Damme, an ex-marine who works at an auto body shop. Daniel uses a phone to talk since he has a damaged throat and cannot speak.

When Lucas goes to meet the drug boys to sell his stash, he finds that his little brother is the new drug boy. Lucas gets furious and drags his brother back to school, arguing that he wants what’s best for Miguel.

Lucas decides to run away in the middle of an important drop-off

Meanwhile, Rincon is hosting his disabled sister Gabriela’s wedding in his backyard while the feds are keeping watch on his house. After completing the day’s runs, Lucas goes to Rincon to give him the day’s earnings. He then begs Rincon to leave Miguel out of the gang life.

Rincon hands Lucas two bricks of drugs, asking him to drop them off at a gas station across the train tracks emphasizing that it’s no ordinary drop-off. After Lucas leaves, Rincon orders Jester to keep an eye on Lucas and to leave Miguel alone.

While on his way to the drop-off, Lucas finds out that Miguel is joining the gang on Jester’s orders. Lucas is held back while his brother gets beaten up as a part of the initiation procedure. After the beating is over, Lucas takes Miguel away from the gang members.

Lucas takes Miguel back home and packs some clothes in his backpack, intending to leave the gang behind for good. While packing, one of the bricks falls out of his backpack. Lucas also finds a letter of acceptance from a baseball camp addressed to Miguel.

Just as they are about to leave, Jester interrupts them asking why Lucas is not at the drop-off. Lucas tries to trick Jester, but he drags Lucas and Miguel with him to confront Rincon. On the way, Carlos, a shopkeeper Lucas helped earlier in the day, sees Lucas and Miguel in trouble. He crashes his truck into a wall, blocking the gang’s way and creating a distraction for Lucas and Miguel to run.

As he is chased by Jester, Lucas runs into Daniel. Daniel lets the kids into his car and speeds away with two shooters on a motorcycle on their tail. While trying to shake the shooters off, the car crashes into a wall, injuring Miguel. Daniel drags them to safety and patches up Miguel. Lucas realizes that Daniel’s an ex-marine and tells him about their older brother, who got killed in action.

Lucas finds the money while Rincon keeps facing bad news

Lucas realizes that the bricks are missing and sneaks back to the car to find them. The brick has caught fire, and he sees that the bricks are not filled with drugs but are two huge stacks of money.

Lucas figures out that he must have dropped the other brick at their home and decides to go back for it. Daniel persuades them to forget about the money and escape. Lucas tells Daniel to back off and storms away.

Meanwhile, Jester reports to Rincon, accusing Lucas of running away with the bricks and turning his back on Rincon. Rincon orders Jester to bring the bricks and Lucas, alive.

Rincon then finds Spider, the pick-up guy of the gas station drop-off, at the wedding. It’s revealed that the drop-off was actually quarter-million dollars sent as payment to an imprisoned leader of another drug cartel. Rincon promises that Spider will get the money by the end of the wedding.

Lucas and Miguel go back to the house and finds the brick. But on their way out, he’s betrayed by Rodrigo, a kid eager to be a part of the gang. They are captured by Jester and taken to Rincon’s house.

Meanwhile, after Gabriela gets married, Rincon walks into the kitchen and finds Spider trying to rape Brenda, a member of his family. He beats Spider to death and then goes to speak to Lucas.

Daniel rescues Lucas and Miguel

When Daniel returns to the auto body shop, he finds the owner beaten up. Anna, the owner’s daughter, tells him that the gang members were looking for him. She also tells him that Lucas and his brother were captured by the gang and Daniel resolves to rescue the kids.

Daniel makes his way to Rincon’s house, taking a gang member hostage along the way. When the feds outside Rincon’s house see him, they call for backup and charge at Daniel, guns pointed. The gang members outside the house also see Daniel and threaten to shoot him.

While everything hangs on balance, fireworks go off at Gabriela’s wedding. This startles everyone, and the shooting begins. In the middle of this chaos, Daniel manages to grab the brick and escape with Lucas and Miguel. Rincon tries to get out of the house and get his sister. But he finds her shot to death.

Rincon and Jester get killed in unexpected ways

Daniel, Lucas, and Miguel escape to a train station. Unfortunately, Jester chases them down, with Rincon close behind. Rincon reveals how much Lucas meant to him, screaming that Lucas was like a son to him. He points his gun at Lucas and Miguel, trying to shoot them. A few seconds pass, and he realizes that he cannot kill Lucas. Tearfully, he orders Lucas to leave and never come back.

This snaps Jester. He blames Rincon for going soft on Lucas and claims that all he wanted was to be the next in line before shooting Rincon in the head.

Before Jester shoots the kids, Daniel shows him the brick. Jester orders Daniel to give it to him. Daniel picks up Miguel’s jacket and throws it to Miguel before tossing the brick to Jester. Just then, Daniel has another traumatic flashback where it’s revealed that he accidentally shot a kid during an attack when he was a marine. In the meantime, Lucas and Miguel run away to safety. Jester realizes that the brick is empty and turns to kill Daniel. In a strange turn of events, Rodrigo shoots Jester, saving Daniel.

In the final scene, Lucas and Miguel are safely on a train. Miguel puts on his jacket and finds the wad of cash stashed in his pocket. As the credits roll, a scene of Lucas and Miguel in the baseball camps plays on the side. It seems like it was a happy ending for them.

Speaking at an interview with Conan on TBS, Jean-Claude Van Damme said,

“People think it’s like an action movie [because] we have 20% action at the end, and it’s about the ms-13 in Washington DC. But it’s a great movie… it’s a different type of movie, and the actors are even better than me.”