Sleeping with the Enemy (1991)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Sleeping with the Enemy</strong> (1991)

(On Cable TV, February 2019) It sure looks as if someone in the programming department of Canadian cable TV SuperChannel has a sense of humour for scheduling romantic thriller Sleeping with the Enemy on Saint Valentine’s Day. Back in 1991, Sleeping in the Enemy was “the next movie” for Julia Roberts: The follow-up movie (after Flatliners) to the instant stardom that Pretty Woman unlocked for her. It certainly was an interesting choice of roles: A story of escape from spousal abuse in which she played the battered wife running away from the violent husband, looking for some quiet far away … but never far away enough. If this strikes you as made-for-TV Lifetime movie material, you’re not wrong: Sleeping with the Enemy has an incredibly formulaic plot, and many other films, famous or not, have re-used the same elements—sometimes as a showcase for other stars. (Jennifer Lopez in Enough, Ashley Judd in Double Jeopardy…) Still, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that both the film and Roberts benefited from each other. Robert’s new star power ensured that the film would be profitable (and with a nine-to-one box-office return on investment, this means incredibly profitable), while the film gave her the chance to stretch her screen persona in the thriller genre. She looks stunning in long red hair at the beginning of the film—but then later on, after cutting the hair, she also gets to show some dramatic range as the resourceful fleeing wife faking her death, and then as a combative woman defending herself when the psycho husband inevitably comes knocking. Despite the film’s predictable nature, there are a few fair moments of suspense along the way. Spousal abuse is the topic that powers the film and despite a serious treatment of the issue, the film can’t help but push it a bit too far at times: Oh no, the towels are aligned! Oh no, he’s watching them at the state fair from behind an implacable moustache! OH NO, the cupboard’s been rearranged! This being said, the familiarity of the plotting sometimes works in the film’s favour by making it easier to take: we know where it’s going, we know how it’s going to go, we know she’s going to be the last one standing. In director Joseph Ruben’s hands, Sleeping with the Enemy is not a good movie—the villain is so cartoonishly evil that the film begs the audience for fist-pumping approval upon his inevitable death—but it’s not an unbearable one, and it even has a few effective moments along the way. It probably speaks too much about my sense of humour that I deliberately watched it on Saint Valentine’s day in keeping with SuperChannel’s scheduling.

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