Jimmy Traynor, the dynamo who turned out 150 films in the past decade, is back with yet another feature where he rules before and behind the camera. This time it is “Jealousy,” which can be considered a two-thirds hit and a one-third mistake.
“Jealousy” takes place in Los Angeles (it is the first film which Traynor created outside of his native Baltimore) and is anchored in the world of indie cinema. But relax…this is not another movie about making movies. Instead, Traynor is cast as Jason, a mild-mannered young man who handles the tech-support needs for a film production company. Jason is elated because his fiancé Lisa (Doralina Silander), an actress who has been trying to pursue a career on the East Coast, is going him for an extended visit. To his surprise, Lisa immediately finds herself reunited with pals from her acting school days and the time planned for Jason is quickly reconfigured as Lisa becomes the new center of local attention.
When not catching up with old friends, Lisa’s charm enables her to make new friends very quickly. In the film’s most amazing sequence, a party at the home of Jason’s boss becomes a festive evening for Lisa as everyone is bowled over by her wit and personality. Poor Jason, however, is isolated from Lisa and his discomfort turns to a quiet seething as his eyes betray a growing jealousy of Lisa’s popularity and a hatred of those newly attracted to her presence. Traynor brilliantly underplays this sequence, keeping his body still as his eyes narrow and his mouth tightens slightly while he looks on from the isolation of his ignored section of the party. Credit is also deserving here for Greg Hatanaka’s subtle camerawork, which navigates the tight physical spaces of the party to reflect this sudden yet silent rupture in Jason’s world. (And pay close attention to the production design here: the use of posters for small-scale flicks such as “Yellow” and “Just a Little Harmless Sex” offer a nice touch for a film rooted in the indie orbit.)
The day after the party, Jason’s trust in Lisa evaporates when he discovers a pack of condoms in her suitcase and when he fields a mysterious call on the cell phone she accidentally left in his apartment when she went out on an errant. The caller claims that Lisa is not a paragon of virtue and Jason snaps. He is taken to stalking Lisa as she makes her way through her new circle of friends, following her footsteps and methodically killing off each person who has shown an interest in her.
As a thriller, “Jealousy” works beautifully in tracing the mental collapse of Jason into the darkness of his worst fears. Traynor captures the mental isolation in a wonderfully measured performance. His physical presence is quietly terrifying as his character’s rage builds; a scene on the beach, where he stands in the distance eyeing a hunky guy who briefly chats with Lisa, is a masterwork of physical control as his stooped shoulders and angry squint telegraph the sense of anguish and frustration boiling in the conversation between his comely beloved and his athletic imagined foe. Even in his romantic scenes with leading lady Silander, Traynor offers a superb balance between agony and ecstasy–his voice and body language offer a mature presentation of the growing repulsion of her supposed unfaithfulness even though he continues his desire to possess her totally.
Unfortunately, Traynor doesn’t know when or how to bring this drama to a close. As the story feels like it is arriving at its goal, there are suddenly several different endings that supersede each other. One feels like it comes from Alfred Hitchcock’s TV series, followed by one which will recall the denouement of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” followed by the abrupt switch in location and a rush of new characters that feels as if a totally different movie was tacked on to “Jealousy.” I won’t give away the surprise of the new setting, but the real surprise is why Traynor decided to shift gears and devote the final 20 minutes of the film (with more plot twists added) to a train of thought which bears absolutely no resemblance to anything that came before it.
Traynor’s winning personality carries most of the final section of the film, and his Superman-style leap across a bedroom in pursuit of carnal satisfaction almost makes this part of the film worth watching. Some diversion can also be enjoyed during this time with the brief yet striking presence of Jabari Simba, an actor who is so cartoonishly muscular that he makes Vin Diesel look like Pee-Wee Herman in comparison. Yet the final section nonetheless seriously dilutes the effectiveness of “Jealousy” and cheats both the audience and the film. This is a shame since “Jealousy” builds for its first two-thirds to the expectation of a bang…and it ends with, of all things, the wimpiest of whimpers.