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This is a highly entertaining historical film that had the great misfortune to be released during the height of Schwarzenegger/Van Damme/"Lethal Weapon" era. It is a film about cultures in collision and the people who are crushed by that collision.
Pierce Brosnan, in one of his best roles, plays Captain Savage, an honorable British soldier in India who is dissatisfied with the "do nothing" policies of his superiors. One day, he and his fiancée see a gathering on a riverbank. They learn that a young woman is preparing to burn herself alive in the authentic practice of "suttee"...her husband has been missing for a year and custom demands she immolate herself. Savage's girl is horrified and begs for him to think of a way out. He disguises himself as a native man and hopes the widow will see a brief glimpse of him and believe it is her husband. The suttee can thus be postponed. The scheme works, but a mob then chases Savage to ask why he has not appeared earlier. He frantically avoids the mob, but then sees a horrible sight. A band of wealthy Hindu travelers is suddenly strangled, robbed and buried. Savage has seen the secret cult of Thuggee at work! He appeals to the base commander (also the father of his intended) to apprehend the Thugs but bureaucracy prevents him from doing so. Savage becomes obsessed with uncovering the Thugs and hits upon a scheme where he will "go native" and infiltrate the Thugs himself. That way he can get incontrovertible proof of their existence. He enlists the reluctant help of a captured Thug (superbly played by Saeed Jaffrey) and goes undercover.
Savage finds himself immersed in the strange and deadly world of the Thugs. As time goes by, he is forced to participate in the ritual murders to keep his cover. His identity is starting to give way. Will his sanity last long enough to reveal the secrets of "The Deceivers"? There's a huge amount of tension in the movie. Its attention to historical and cultural detail is excellent. Doing some research on the Thugs, I discovered the exact words of their "Sugar of Kali" ritual are used in the movie. Most confusing for Savage is the fact that, when not killing innocents, the Thugs appear to be normal and even kind people. The interesting contrast is that the former Thug feels his own loyalty to his people weakening as he sees Savage losing his way.
The ending is bittersweet and not sugarcoated at all. I highly recommend this film to anyone who likes tense historical drama as well as those who want a glimpse inside a forbidden, exotic culture.
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