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Julia Roberts in Sleeping with The Enemy (1991)

Julia Roberts and Patrick Bergin star in the 1991 thriller Sleeping with the Enemy. Kevin Anderson and Elizabeth Lawrence also appear.

Sleeping with the Enemy 1991 one sheet poster, image courtesy Twentieth Century-Fox

Director Joseph Ruben and Twentieth Century-Fox delivered Sleeping with the Enemy to movie theaters in 1991. Julia Roberts plays the abused wife, with Patrick Bergin as her husband.

Nancy Price’s Sleeping with the Enemy Novel

Sleeping with the Enemy is based on the novel of the same name by Iowa-born writer Nancy Price. Published in 1987 by Simon and Schuster, the book received some excellent reviews.

“A tense, tightly woven novel…Price has managed in the writing to be absolutely faithful to the villains as well as the victims…” reported Louise Erdrich of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“Every woman’s nightmare…You won’t be able to put it down,” crowed the Houston Chronicle.

Julia Roberts Stars in Sleeping with the Enemy

Ronald Bass wrote the screenplay for Twentieth Century-Fox. Joseph Ruben (The Stepfather, True Believer, Money Train) directed. Jerry Goldsmith created the original music score and John Lindley served as cinematographer.

Julia Roberts (Laura Burney) and Patrick Bergin (Martin Burney) head the small cast. Other players include Kevin Anderson (Ben Woodward), Elizabeth Lawrence (Chloe Williams), Kyle Secor (Fleishman), Claudette Nevins (Dr. Rissner), Tony Abatemarco (Locke), Marita Geraghty (Julie), Harley Venton (Garber), Nancy Fish (Woman on Bus) and Sandi Shackleford (Edna).

Sleeping with the Enemy Filmed in the Carolinas

Budgeted at $20 million, Sleeping with the Enemy was filmed from April to June 1990. The movie was shot in North and South Carolina. Shell Island Resort Hotel in Wrightsville, North Carolina, served as the Burneys’ luxurious beach house. The film’s carnival scene was lensed at New Hanover County Fair Grounds in Wilmington, North Carolina, while the college campus exterior scenes were shot at Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina.

Other locations used included Kure Beach, North Carolina, and Abbeville, South Carolina. Star Julia Roberts didn’t care much for the latter, calling Abbeville “a living hell” and “horribly racist,” vowing never to set foot in the place again. To date, she hasn’t.

Sleeping with the Enemy: Julia Roberts Escapes to Iowa

The film opens on the beach at Cape Cod, where Laura Burney is enjoying a walk. Martin, her financial advisor husband, later approaches, elegantly dressed in business attire and appearing to be sweet and gentle.

Dr. Fleishman, a Boston neurologist, arrives at the dock one day, inviting the Burneys to join him on his sailboat that night. After he leaves, Martin shows his true colors, accusing Laura of having an affair with the handsome physician and then knocking her to the floor.

The Burneys accept the doctor’s invitation and head up the coast on his boat. An unexpected storm soon erupts, with Laura going overboard. When Search and Rescue fail to find her body, Laura is presumed dead, with her funeral service taking place on the beach.

In flashback form, we see what really happened, with Laura clinging to a buoy and later swimming to shore. She heads back to the deserted house where she changes clothes, cuts her hair, dons a wig and grabs some money and a single bag. Boarding a Greyhound bus, Laura leaves her former life behind and winds up in Iowa, now calling herself “Sara Waters.”

But her “widowed” husband, acting on several clues, now believes that his Laura may be alive. He hires a private investigator, which leads him to Iowa and a fatal confrontation with his wife.

Sleeping with the Enemy Release and Reviews

Sleeping with the Enemy opened on February 8, 1991.

“Because the opening scenes of Sleeping with the Enemy are so powerful, the rest of the movie is all the more disappointing,” reported Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times (2/8/91).

“No one in this movie can be accused of doing his best. Roberts is lazily phoning in her People magazine look and Bergin is just a pantomime villain,” observed Desson Howe of the Washington Post (2/8/91).

“Roberts is terrific in a layered part. Anderson brings an edge to the nice-guy-next-door role, and the dark, dashing Bergin is chillingly twisted,” opined Variety.

Film Analysis: Know Your Enemy

Sleeping with the Enemy is a good psychological thriller, but this isn’t Alfred Hitchcock by a long shot. The subject matter here is spousal abuse with a vengeful twist, with director Joseph Ruben delivering a credible, if not spectacular effort.

Julia Roberts plays the battered wife with charm and a certain innocence. And while fussy Patrick Bergin is no top-tier Hitchcock villain, he does manage his role as abuser in chief and OCD control freak with a sinister calm and a dark, brooding anger.

The best scenes are saved for last when Martin comes face to face with his “dead” wife. “Hello, Princess. It’s wonderful to see you,” he intones, holding a gun. A monumental struggle ensues, involving Martin, Laura and her new beau Ben.

With Ben knocked unconscious and Laura now holding the gun with shaking hands, she dials the police as a taunting Martin looks on. “This is Sara Waters, 408 Tremont. Come quickly. I just killed an intruder,” she says. Laura then pumps three bullets into the startled Martin, but like many a Hollywood villain he isn’t quite dead yet.

Sleeping with the Enemy Box Office, Notes, DVD

  • Sleeping with the Enemy grossed $101.599 million at the American box office, good for the #8 position on the list of the top moneymaking films of 1991.
  • Laura ditches her wedding ring in the toilet, where Martin later finds it.
  • Laura had secretly taken swimming lessons at the YWCA, preparing for her escape to freedom that night on the boat.
  • Martin pays a $10,000 bonus to the private eye who finds Chloe Williams, Laura’s mother, who is in a nursing home.
  • Dressed in theatrical makeup, Laura visits her blind mother at a nursing home, barely missing Martin.
  • Stupid Martin accosts the wrong drama teacher at a college in Cedar Falls, wrongly thinking he’s the new guy in Laura’s life. The man is gay.
  • Clues to Martin’s presence at Laura’s new home in Iowa: the old arrangement of three towels hanging in the bathroom and canned goods neatly stacked in the cupboard.
  • On DVD: Sleeping with the Enemy (Twentieth Century-Fox, 2003).

“I can’t live without you. And I won’t let you live without me,” Martin tells Laura.

Blam! Blam! Blam! So much for Martin the amateur philosopher…

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2 Comments
  1. Posted December 31, 2009 at 2:37 am

    This movie reflects a lot of situations in the life of a battered wife. Great review :)

  2. Posted December 31, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    Bergin really takes-off as a psychopath, so possessive and normal-looking that it’s terrifying to think that some men are actually like this. Great insight Will and another interesting review:)

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