Sleeping with the Enemy cozies right up to the hard truth that abusers are everywhere.
Every domestic thriller is the sequel to a romantic comedy. Romantic comedies reward impulsive, boundary-smashing gestures and unflagging perseverance; thrillers check in on the kinds of couples created by such careless disregard for personal space. With just a little tweaking, it’s easy to imagine Julia Roberts’s abusive millionaire husband in 1991’s Sleeping with the Enemy as the same character played by Richard Gere in Pretty Woman a year earlier, climbing toward Roberts up the fire escape, a bouquet of roses clenched in his teeth.
Pretty Woman did for romantic comedies what Fatal Attraction did for domestic thrillers, and it made a star of Roberts; her way of, as Janet Maslin put it, “smiling shyly with every particle of her being” spun the most cynical meet-cute of the nineties into something as fresh and naive as a Downy ad. Sleeping with the Enemy, a grim and purposeful little film, positively warps around her radiant vulnerability. Directed by Joseph Ruben from a much flimsier script than his 1987 domestic horror film The Stepfather, Sleeping with the Enemy opens on Laura Burney (Roberts) and her aforementioned rich, violent husband Martin (Patrick Bergin) in their chilly modernist vacation home in Cape Cod. Laura fakes her death to escape his brutal beatings and coercive intimacy, starting a new life under an alias in small-town Iowa; Martin discovers the fraud and tracks her down to the inevitable confrontation. Read More