Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sleeping With the Enemy

Last night, I finally had the chance to see Rosalind Russell in the first sound version of Craig's Wife, about a wife who's so obsessed with the social standing that her marriage brings her that she'll push everything away just to keep it. I had already seen the remake, 1950's Harriet Craig, with Joan Crawford taking on the Russell role. Unfortunately, neither of these movies has been released to DVD yet.

One of the key scenes in Craig's Wife is how she wants the rooms of her house so immaculate and pristine that she notices when even a Grecian urn on the mantelpiece ever so slightly out of place. It's symptomatic of her obsessiveness, so much so that her husband deliberately smashes the urn to signify a break in his acceptance of the way his wife is treating him. When I watched that scene last night, it immediately made me think of the more recent movie Sleeping With the Enemy.

In Sleeping With the Enemy, Julia Roberts stars as a woman trapped in an abusive marriage. Her husband (played by Patrick Bergin) doesn't only beat her and use her for sex on his terms; he's obsessive to the point of wanting the hand towels in the bathroom to hang off the towel rack to exactly the same length, and have the labels on everything in the kitchen to face exactly the same way. Needless to say, Roberts grows tired of this, and makes a plan to escape by faking her own drowning. She does so, and hops a bus out to Iowa, where she hopes to make a new life for herself.

However, Sleeping With the Enemy is a Hollywood movie, so we know this isn't going to be the end of the story. Eventually, Bergin finds his wife's wedding ring, realizes she's still alive, and.... Well, you can figure out the rest of the plot from here. The only thing I'll say about the rest of the story is that the movie needed one more bullet.

Sleeping With the Enemy falls short, mostly because it makes the husband too much of a cardboard cutout. His obsession isn't chilling (like, say, Kathy Bates' in Misery, where we don't know about the penguins until it's too late); it's more buffoonish. Seeing Julia Roberts go through her house, and find mounting evidence that her husband is back (there's those pesky towels and canned goods again!) is less frightening than it is amusing. The sex scene is supposed to show us just how abusive Bergin is, but it really feels tacked-on; we also get the spectacle of Bergin working out half-naked on a treadmill, which really gives the impression that the producers felt they had somebody good-looking here, so they better figure out a way to use his body. At any rate, Sleeping With the Enemy is, like most more recent movies, available on DVD, if you wish to judge for yourself.

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