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Sleeping with the Enemy (1991)

She changed her name, changed her looks, all to escape the most dangerous man shes ever known…her husband.

Directed by:

Joseph Ruben

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 94 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

Julia Roberts stars as Laura Burney, an apparently perfect wife in an apparently perfect marriage. Her husband Martin (Patrick Bergin) is handsome, charming, rich and besotted with her. Unfortunately, he is also controlling, manipulative and violently abusive. One evening, when the couple are out sailing with a neighbour, a squall comes up and in the rough weather Laura is seemingly lost overboard. A devastated Martin searches for her, knowing that she can't swim, but her body is not found. However, Laura is not dead – the 'accident' is in fact part of her plan to escape her husband, which has been in preparation for many months. Laura moves to a small town far away, assumes a fake identity, and starts building a new life.

On settling in, Laura meets neighbour Ben Woodward (Kevin Anderson), a college drama teacher, and after a few false starts they begin a tentative romance. Meanwhile, Laura's husband is starting to suspect that his wife may not be dead. He receives a message of condolence from a woman who attended swimming classes with her, and realises that she may well have been able to swim to shore. Laura had told him that her mother had died months earlier, but when he follows this lead he discovers that Laura had moved her mother in secret instead. An angry Martin hires private detectives to trace Laura's mother, and eventually they find her. Posing as a police officer, Martin tricks Laura's mother into giving him the information he needs to find her. Now both Laura and Ben are in danger as Martin's violence reaches new extremes.

'Sleeping with the Enemy' certainly has its moments. The first half is extremely good – the introduction to the couple's problems, the accident, and the gradual revelation of Laura's escape plan are all strongly written and convincing. This is also the part of the movie in which the characters are given the greatest depth. However, once Laura starts her new life, the plot weakens somewhat becoming predictable even to the point of a typical Hollywood 'bad guy comes back from the dead one last time' ending. There is little further development of the characters of Laura and Martin, and Ben is particularly two-dimensional. The film is worth watching for a fine first half, but be prepared for it to become increasingly woolly as the plot develops.

It's Got: Some elements of genuine tension and a strong first half.

It Needs: To lose most of the endless Julia Roberts trying on costumes montage.

DVD Extras In the UK, Sleeping with the Enemy is only available on DVD in a double pack with another Julia Roberts film, Dying Young. Extras: Video clips, Theatrical trailer. DVD Extras Rating: 3/10

Alternatives:

Casualties., Dolores Claiborne, Sling Blade

Summary

This 'abused wife becomes empowered woman' film has potential, but after a good start it never manages to examine the subject to the depth it deserves.