Darren Curtis’ solo directorial debut Boost is a thrilling piece of cinema from beginning to end. Crackling with energy and tension, the film weaves a stunning and intricate tableau of friendship, youth and crime. Underneath bubbles a subtle, but thoroughly effective, commentary on the immigrant experience in Canada.

Hakeem (Nabil Rajo) and his best friend Anthony (Jahmil French), often referred to as A-Mac, are by all accounts typical teenagers. They spend their days in school, when not suspended, and their minds are consumed with ways to attract the opposite sex. Working at a car dealership owned by Hakeem’s uncle, Ram (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine), the young men pick up extra cash on the side by passing on customer information for cars Ram’s associates want to steal.

For the reckless Anthony the extra cash gives him aspirations for criminal ventures of his own. Whereas Hakeem, who lives with his immigrant mother (Oluniké Adeliyi) and brother, understands that every dime can help get his family out of poverty. Ignoring his mother’s wishes, and caving to the Anthony’s peer pressure, Hakeem agrees to start boosting cars for Ram’s side business. A decision that has life-threatening consequences when one of their assignments gets out of hand.

Offering a fresh take on familiar tropes, specifically the wayward best friend that causes the protagonist a slew of problems, Boost transcends the typical crime tale. Curtis ensures that Hakeem’s immigrant experience always remains in the viewer’s mind. As Ram points out, an immigrant will never truly be seen as an equal in Canada no matter how hard they try to fit in. However, Curtis never uses this as an excuse to justify some of the bad choices Hakeem makes.

It is his brotherly bond with Anthony, and his unrelenting loyalty, that contributes to the pairs his downward spiral. Rajo and French, whose undeniable chemistry is endlessly charming, are the pulsing beat of Boost’s youthful heart. Their performances are the perfect mixture of innocence, cockiness, and fear. This greatly adds to the tension in film as Hakeem and Anthony’s boastful demeanors fails to mask the fact they are teenagers in way over their head.

Boost is the type of thrilling filmmaking that we need to see more of in Canadian cinema. The film announces Darren Curtis as a director destined for big things.

Thursday, February 15, 6:30 PM, Art Gallery of Ontario

Tickets can be purchased at the Toronto Black Film Festival website. The film will receive a regular theatrical run starting March 2 at Scotiabank Cineplex, Toronto