“You are what you believe.”

The religious-based thriller series, Messiah, is one of the first new Netflix Originals of 2020. Created by Michael Petroni, known for writing films such as, The Book Thief and The Rite, the story unfolds from the points of view of multiple narrators.

When CIA officer Eva Geller (Michelle Monaghan) uncovers information about a man (Mehdi Dehbi) gaining international attention through acts of public disruption, she begins an investigation into his origins. As he continues to cultivate followers who allege he’s performing miracles, the global media become increasingly beguiled by this charismatic figure. Geller must race to unravel the mystery of whether he really is a divine entity or a deceptive con artist capable of dismantling the world’s geopolitical order.

It’s interesting to see a series about politics and religion, and the criticism on both subjects being made by a platform like Netflix, in the way they present it like they do, with Messiah. Not only do they cover different religions and similarities between them, but also the locations in which the entire story takes place, is on a more international level, to which at least one third of the series is subtitled, due to different languages (in this case Hebrew and Arabic) being spoken by our main characters. This way the series reaches a broader audience, and discussion leads to word of mouth, which leads to more viewers checking out the series.

As the story unfolds, multiple perspectives are interwoven including that of an Israeli intelligence officer (Tomer Sisley), a Texas preacher (John Ortiz) and his daughter (Stefania LaVie Owen), a Palestinian refuge (Sayyid El Alami) and the journalist (Jane Adams) who covers the story. All of these very diverse characters have an important role in how the “Messiah”‘s actions will develop and in to which extent the world will try and stop or encourage his message. This influences the viewer to go either way in believing this mysterious man’s vision, when more and more weirdly inexplicable phenomena take place all over the world.

A sandstorm of biblical proportions is the start of a political, military and religious shift in the world, but with social media and videos/news going viral in no time, what is real and what has been altered to entertain and push the masses into believing what governments or criminals want you to believe?Messiah makes you think about religion and politics, without ever judging anyone’s beliefs.

One of the stars of the series, Michelle Monaghan (Mission: Impossible – Fallout), as the driven CIA officer Geller, brings us a composed and strong female character with her own personal problems, who’s constantly worrying about her sick father and questions everything she’s ever believed in. She’s here to ask the real questions and investigate if this isn’t all just part of a cult or some sort of apocalyptic propaganda. Monaghan gets to showcase some of her dramatic talent early on in the series. She does seem to be presented as the poster child of the series in earlier news articles and trailers, but this isn’t the case. She shares most of her precious screen time with other international actors who have a big part to play in the whole of the story. Tomer Sisley (We’re The Millers) is one hell of an actor, he plays a seriously troubled Israeli intelligence officer, who has to deal with some personal issues. His performance is pretty typical for the character he’s playing, but with his accent and rough looks, it gives him that extra edge at being tough and menacing, ready to shoot anyone that looks in his direction.

The real star of the show is Mehdi Dehbi (Tyrant). The man he plays is smart, he’s highly educated and knows everything about everyone – he sees you like you really are. Dehbi, with his piercing eyes, is perfectly cast as the main character. The looks and somewhat arrogant confidence, make him seem dangerous, when he tries to portray himself as someone safe and someone you can confide in. He makes mistakes, but this could all be part of a bigger plan he has in his mind. Dehbi embodies his character and steals the spotlight in each scene he’s in, even with the most established actors, such as Monaghan herself.

The writing isn’t as focused as one might hope for. It’s confusing at times, while jumping between different locations and following several different main characters at the same time. This does get better later on in the series, when everything starts to come together and settles down. The writers do make an effort at keeping everything eventful and exhilarating, with a few spectacular special effects heavy scenes, which are designed wonderfully.

Messiah is an incendiary thriller that explores the power of influence and disbelief in the age of social media, made to provoke and look beyond what’s right in front of you. A geopolitical scam or a miraculous resurrection?

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Netflix Review – ‘Messiah: Season 1’

Reviewed on Netflix, Sydney, Dec. 22, 2019. Australian Classification: TBC. Running time: 10 x 45 min.

PRODUCTION: A Netflix release of an Industry Entertainment production. Producers: Brandon Guercio, David Nicksay. Executive producers: Mark Burnett, Andrew Deane, Roma Downey, James McTeigue, Michael Petroni.

CREW: Directors: James McTeigue, Kate Woods. Creator: Michael Petroni. Screenplay: Michael Petroni, Bruce Marshall Romans, Michael Bond, Brandon Guercio, Amy Louise Johnson, Kelly Wiles. Camera (color, widescreen): Danny Ruhlmann. Editors: Martin Connor, Joseph Jett Sally. Music: Johnny Klimek, Gabriel Isaac Mounsey.

WITH: Mehdi Dehbi, Michelle Monaghan, Jane Adams, Sayyid El Alami, Melinda Page Hamilton, Stefania LaVie Owen, Tomer Sisley, Barbara Eve Harris, Rona-Lee Shim’on, Iqbal Theba, John Ortiz.

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