Much like its American Crime Story predecessor The People vs. O.J. Simpson, The Assassination of Gianni Versace takes on a murder that captured the attention of the nation when Andrew Cunanan shot and killed fashion designer Gianni Versace on July 15, 1997, in Miami Beach, Florida. The subsequent manhunt for Cunanan was a top story for news outlets and fed the public's appetite to see another criminal be brought down for their selfish attempt at fame. Being that I am plenty old enough (unfortunately) to remember when these events took place, I was very intrigued to see this story come to life since I had only previously been able to gather whatever facts the media made available at the time.
From powerhouse creator Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story, Glee) and writer Tom Rob Smith comes a reenactment of the events that happened on July 15th, 1997 plus they take us back into the past to show us details on how Cunanan and Versace had previously MIGHT have known each other. That's right, I said might because according to the real-life Versace family, Cunanan and Gianni had never even met. Based on the book "Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History" by Maureen Orth we are given a couple of examples that might not be the case. That being said, I'm going to base my opinion on the show itself, without getting into a debate of Fact vs. Fiction.
The opening scene takes us into Gianni Versace's (Edgar Ramirez) lavish home as he wakes up in the morning to do the morning ritual of getting dressed and having breakfast. We're taken through many different rooms and all are a decadent display of artistry and elegant design. At the same time, we find Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) sitting on a beach with nothing but a backpack pondering his thoughts as he pulls out a pistol and longingly stares at it. He puts it back in his bag and walks waist deep into the ocean water just so he can let out a massive scream into the sky. While Versace goes about his day at leisure, walking to a café to pick up some magazines, we see Cunanan in a far more erratic state as he runs into a bathroom to vomit. Looking at some graffiti on the wall that says "Filthy Faggots" he seems full of anxiety and as he washes his face in the sink we get all the feels that he's battling an inner struggle. The poor mental stability of Cunanan is very evident and that mixed with a weapon is never a good combination.
When Versace returns home, Cunanan is right across the street and quickly crosses upon seeing him. With very little hesitation he walks up behind Versace and as he turns around, we get one quick shot of his face before Cunanan shoots him. And with that, we're off to the races of another American Crime Story.
The structure of the episode goes back and forth between the past of 1990 and the present action of dealing with Versace's murder in 1997. This not only shows us how Cunanan was celebrity obsessed with Versace from the beginning but also that he was a huge compulsive liar and often would present himself to others in whatever way would most benefit him. The few friends that he did have would call him out on this but he seemed to hold no regard for their opinions. He would lie that he was gay or straight. Jewish or Catholic. With this in mind, it's maybe even hard to believe if he did have any kind of relationship with Versace at all.
But for the sake of the story, we are shown that they met at a club in San Francisco once and Cunanan used his charm to grab Versace's attention and make him know who he was. Cunanan would, later on, meet Versace after a performance of an opera he was doing the costumes for and they would have an intimate conversation afterward. Cunanan talked about his family and that his father was a pilot for the First Lady of the Philippines but he would eventually retire to making money from a successful pineapple business. Versace talked about his love of his family, in particular, his sister who he designed his first dress for. While there is no way to know if this meeting ever took place it gives more credibility to Cunanan possibly exaggerating and indulging about himself but also shows us Versace's strong ties to his family.
Back in the 1997 story part, the plot focuses on the murder and subsequent manhunt for Andrew Cunanan. While we're shown that the police did their work in finding Cunanan's abandoned truck we learn that he had already been a focal point of an FBI investigation for four other murders. But the FBI was apparently at fault because a local pawn shop owner had turned in paperwork from a sale with Cunanan showing that he was in Miami and they missed it. All this goes to show that there's a good chance that Versace's murder probably could've been prevented.
If that wasn't enough when the police question Versace's lover Antonio D' Amico (Ricky Martin) we are shown the ugly side of a time when homophobia was still a huge part of society (not that it has gone away). The detective questioning D' Amico was more focused on the exact definition of their relationship (him calling Versace his partner) and how they chose to go about their sex lives} with bringing other men into their home than asking about Cunanan himself. The judgment and disapproval of their lifestyle are hard to watch and makes your stomach turn after this man has just lost the love of his life. Between the FBI and a prejudiced police force if we didn't already know the outcome of this story one could already see Cunanan getting away with it.
In telling the tale of Gianni Versace, the presence of his sister Donatella (Penelope Cruz) is a large part of it since she would have to step in to handle the business side amidst the tragedy of her brother being killed. Cruz does a great job of coming in and showing the maturity of dealing with the crisis while keeping her head on straight. My only problem being that I can understand there wanting to be an authenticity to portraying the real Donatella but her use of the women's very strong accent left me oftentimes more distracted by having to decipher what she was saying instead of purely just focusing on the content of the scene. I hope it clears up more as the series goes on.
The episode directed by Ryan Murphy has more of a cinematic feel to it than a tale for the small screen which I'm sure in dealing with a man like Versace who had such an extravagant life is very intentional. There are several huge sweeping crane shots used to show the locations plus an intense classical score that sometimes almost risks devouring the scene instead of just adding a mood. Murphy makes sure to add the fanatical celebrity side of instances like this by showing one man take a Polaroid of Versace's body as it is loaded into the ambulance and a woman who jumps past the police tape just to rub an ad from a magazine in a puddle of his blood. The sad part is none of these surprised me in the least.
Darren Criss is fantastic as the troubled Cunanan, who even though I can't seem to find anything to like about the fibbing criminal is one of those characters you still wonder what makes them tick. While this didn't paint him in any kind of sympathetic light, his intricate mind is the unfortunate reason there is a large following of those that like to study serial killers.
Finally, considering there's supposed to be eight more episodes I'm not sure how this series will hold up since we've already seen how they met and the actual murder. They've already established the manhunt and it could go badly if they try to drag it out too long. While I did enjoy this first episode, I can't help but think it's going to be downhill from here since if you know the real story there isn't really much to do with giving this an explosive and nail-biting finale. That being said, I trust in Ryan Murphy and will be glad to see what he does with this passion project of his. What were your thoughts? Just another murder story or did this one from FX Networks grab you in a different way?