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Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Retro Review: Sleeping With The Enemy (1991)

Sleeping With The Enemy
Cast: Julia Roberts, Patrick Bergin, Kevin Anderson 
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $174 million 

Plot: After faking her death in order to flee from her violent husband, Martin, Laura Burney leaves Cape Cod and moves to Iowa, where she adopts a new identity & starts dating a local teacher, Ben. Martin, meanwhile, unearths evidence suggesting that she isn't dead, and when her mother confirms this, he tracks her to Iowa. He finds Laura & Ben, forcing her to fight for her life once again

'This Has Hallmark Channel Straight-To-DVD Written All Over It'

Like with Robin Williams, there are great Julia Roberts films, to good Julia Roberts films & (exceedingly) bad Julia Roberts films. Yet as much as she gets bashed a lot by critics and people, I like her as a person and I do like some of her movies. As well as the likes of Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride that I could care less for. For every great in Erin Brockovich, The Pelican Brief, Steel Magnolias and Mona Lisa Smile though, one also has to take the bad - & for me that's Dying Young (another clunker from 1991), Eat Pray Love & I Love Trouble. 

In Sleeping With The Enemy, irrespective of the millions it clawed at the box office, worldwide, in many ways, this film falls into that latter category. And it is, truthfully speaking, terrible beyond words.

The film mistakenly opens with a happy, cheerful upbeat song; in fact, it is not only the wrong choice of music to opt for a film that is a psychological thriller, one would think they'd be in for a good time. Well, apparently not so. Behind the smiles and cheery outlook lies a deep and disturbing secret that Laura chooses to keep from her friends and loved ones: that her husband is not the kind-loving man that he seems. Far from it. She has the choice: either to leave and get away from him and survive or continue being subjected to the constant abuse, until she is left for dead. 

An early offering starring Julia Roberts, which sees a shift towards heavier dramatic roles, and somewhat of a far cry from Pretty Woman, Steel Magnolias and Mystic Pizza, the made- for- TV production like values are so evident throughout this big- budget offering, despite how slick and glossy looking the actual film looks aesthetically, it cheapens and lessens the entire film that tries to pass itself off as a legitimate blockbuster. Sure, it made a lot of money at the box office, but still, a made- for- TV movie is what Sleeping with the Enemy is. The direction looks schlocky and second-rate at most. Everything about it, but for Julia Roberts, just reeks of straight-to-DVD fodder. Replace Julia Roberts with a Z-list or lesser known actress, and one could hardly tell the difference. Sleeping With The Enemy was also a further attempt by Julia Roberts to prove that not only is she a pretty face but that she can carry a dramatic-based movie.  

Sadly, with this exception, it was to no avail. 

Jerry Goldsmith's score that plays throughout is jarring, and to the point irritating. The bad guy himself is utterly one-dimensional with hardly any complexity in his characterisation and seeing sweet good gal Julia Roberts play the victim we should empathise with, well, this role is beyond her. & though it is good to see her not playing the love interest in a rom-com, she is completely miscast here. Roles-wise, battered wife Julia is, therefore, not.

Sleeping With the Enemy, much like Enough starring Jennifer Lopez, is one of those abused female characters flicks, where the character escapes from her abuser and later gathers up the courage and strength to get their revenge against him. 

One of the frustrating things about this film is how Laura doesn't take more time to get over her marriage, and that no sooner does she get involved with another man named Ben, straight after. Another thing that was odd is how, for a psychological thriller, it has all this cheerful, soothing music. That and Laura bakes her new crush an apple pie. AN APPLE PIE for goodness sake. What is this movie turning into? Steel Magnolias or something?

And yet the drubbing this movie received practically meant that not only was Julia Roberts never to be seen again in another psychological thriller, it wasn't until 9 years, almost 10 years later, right after Sleeping With The Enemy was released that Erin Brockovich, from 2000 and its massive success, redeemed things for Roberts down the big-time drama route and helped consolidated her status as an A-list Hollywood actress during the early 2000s -, after years playing typecast rom-com roles.  

The suspense here is so non-existent that I just wasn't feeling it at all. I just can't help feeling as I was sitting through this film how amateur it really is. The love interest guy for Julia Roberts just comes across as urgent and corny with his corny singing, and the performances all-round come off as being contrived or cartoonish. Patrick Bergen's turn as the psycho wife- beater husband is too over-the-top, it borders on comical almost. Julia's character meanwhile is very limited, as she reduced to either looking miserable or so happy-go-lucky. There are no attempts made in developing Laura's character, whatsoever. 

It was also startling to see that Martin's so-called physical 'beatdown' towards Laura only resorts to just two blows - and still, Julia Roberts doesn't bear any visible physical scars. No black eye, no busted lip, no actual bruises on her body, no nothing. 

Even more ridiculous, after a hard-hitting first 30 mins, the film then transcends into mawkish, eye-rolling melodrama and cornball scenes such as Brown Eyed Girl playing in the foreground, as Laura tries on new clothes like she was clothes shopping in Top Shop or Macy's. Oh, and what about the scene when Laura disguises herself as a guy with a fake moustache on her way to the hospital to see her grandmother! Talk about real corny and trifling. And this is supposed to be a hard-hitting psychological thriller!?



- Scenery and setting looks nice, in a way 

Cons - 

- Feels more like a cheap made-for-TV movie 

- Horrid script

- Jarring and excruciating score 

- Condescending and at times insulting to the audience when it wants to be 

- Some WTH moments that make you go 'why?' 

- The Villain lacks characterisation, complexity

Final Verdict:

All Sleeping With The Enemy does is it trivialises domestic violence, as well as take Julia Roberts's Pretty Woman image, screw it up a bit so that she gets a mauling from critics and alike, & thus make her look more of a joke. With a horrendous and third-rate script, at times confusing and confounding direction, TV movie feel and characters one can't really identify with, Sleeping With The Enemy is a truly bad Hollywood thriller masquerading as a Hallmark/Lifetime film.

Never mind being out of her depth, Julia Roberts is completely and without a shadow of a doubt miscast as the bruised and battered wife, who endures her lows, as well as woes. 

Inept, cheap and at times condescending, Sleeping With The Enemy is almost to the point laughable with such silly moments, as well as being cliched and downright humiliating. 

That, & it is also not a Julia Roberts film I'd add to my collection of her works. 


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