Julia Roberts 1990s Psychological Thriller Is Her Best Blockbuster

By Brian Myers | Published

Julia Roberts’ breakout role as Shelby Eatenton Latcherie in the 1989 film Steel Magnolias led to almost immediate success in the industry. The 1990 film Pretty Woman quickly followed as a smashing success, as Roberts saw her star quickly rise. In the next year, Roberts transitioned from romantic comedies and co-starred in two thrillers: 1990’s Flatliners and the 1991 film that showed her at her best, Sleeping with the Enemy.

Things Aren’t As They Seem In Sleeping With The Enemy

Julia Roberts stars as Laura, the physically and emotionally abused wife of the wealthy Boston financial guru Martin Burney (Patrick Bergin). As Sleeping with the Enemy opens, the couple seems to be living a life that is full of romance and wealth akin to a fairy tale. Audiences quickly see that Laura is living deep inside a nightmare, as her husband is quick tempered, jealous, and not afraid to use his fists when he has lost control of his anger.

Laura Fakes Her Death

Sleeping with the Enemy doesn’t leave audiences feeling sorry for Laura for long, as Julia Roberts’ character isn’t going to be any rich jerk’s punching bag. The woman hatches a scheme to escape from her abusive husband and socks away some cash, a disguise, and some changes of clothing. When the couple are on a neighbor’s boat one evening, Laura “accidentally” falls overboard and, as Martin knows she cannot swim, is believed by everyone to have drowned at sea.

Laura had been secretly taking swimming lessons, all part of her plan to fake her death and ditch Martin. She swims ashore, gathers up the bag she had stashed, puts on her wig, and takes a bus to the Midwest to start a new life under an assumed name. As Sleeping with the Enemy continues, you see that Julia Roberts isn’t out of the dark just yet.

Roberts Plays The Part Perfectly

As it turns out, Martin inadvertently discovers that his wife might have faked her death and fled his abusive clutches. Not willing to let things go, Martin shows his real psychotic side and tracks down his estranged wife to the small Iowa city that she has settled in. Sleeping with the Enemy takes some dark twists and turns that build into the ultimate showdown between Martin and Laura, showing the broad range of both Julia Roberts and Patrick Bergin’s abilities on screen.

Julia Roberts elevates Sleeping with the Enemy above what could have been just a mediocre psychological thriller into a film that has a believable character that is likely all too familiar with many audience members. Roberts plays the part of a woman caught in the horrific cycle of abuse to a T, her character still displaying tics and triggers on cue with seamless perfection. Bergin is equally as brilliant on screen, his monster of a character as smooth as he is psychotically violent.

A Twist You Won’t See Coming

The plotline is a bit clichéd and the story arc a bit predictable, though the film’s climax does take an unexpected turn that leaves audiences satisfied that the abused Laura is able to confront her past and handle it with strength that is unexpected. Audiences have delighted in dozens of Julia Roberts’ films over the decades, but Sleeping with the Enemy should be at the top of the “to watch” list if you’ve never seen it.

A Must-See Julia Roberts Film


In the 30+ years since the release of Sleeping with the Enemy, Julia Roberts is still a commodity in the industry. Her recent performances in Gaslit and Leave the World Behind have paved the way for her to star in the latest thriller from director Luca Guadagnino, After the Hunt.

While you cannot stream Sleeping with the Enemy for free, you can still catch Julia Roberts in her greatest role On Demand with Vudu, AppleTV, Google Play, and Prime.