Some assassinations make household names of their gunmen. Kill a president, say, and your name will likely go down in history. Putting bullets in Abraham Lincoln and John F Kennedy gave John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald eternal infamy, of course. But murder one of the world’s most famous people that doesn’t happen to be in high office and the killer’s not guaranteed the personal interest one might expect.
Who shot Martin Luther King, for instance? Do you know? We had to look it up – it was a man called James Earl Ray. And Ghandi? Nathuram Godse, whoever he is. But just because shooting big names dead doesn’t ensure the world knows your name, that doesn’t mean your story isn’t one worth knowing.
And that’s the premise behind The Assassination of Gianni Versace, the follow up to the critically and publicly-lauded crime drama series of 2016, The People Vs O J Simpson.
Both TV shows hit our screens under the wider banner of American Crime Story, the true crime sister to the increasingly bizarre (and increasingly bad) anthology series, American Horror Story. The creative force behind both Horror and Crime is Ryan Murphy, the showrunner responsible for other wildly successful televisual offerings such as Nip/Tuck and Glee. And, for this maiden episode of Versace, Murphy is behind the camera as well.
We begin on Miami Beach, Florida. It’s the summer of 1997 and an exceptionally rich and flamboyant man wakes up in an opulent beachside mansion, eats breakfast, gets dressed, pops out for a quick walk, returns home and has his brains blown out all over his front step. That man is Gianni Versace, the best-known and most successful fashion designer on Earth.
The man left holding the smoking gun? Andrew Cunahan. See? We told you assassinating famous people doesn’t guarantee fame. That said, by the end of this nine-part FX series, currently running on Wednesday nights on BBC 2, most of us will be pretty well versed in exactly who Andrew Cunahan was.
In fact, we’re going to be very well versed indeed. Only The Assassination of Gianni Versace may feature the Italian designer’s name rather prominently in its title, but this is firmly a series about his murderer and what drove him to gun down Versace in cold blood.
Our assassin, we learn in flashbacks, is less a professional hitman type than an obsessive Tom Ripley-esque character. A pathological liar with compulsive tendencies and a penchant for manipulation and social ascension, Cunahan was, in reality, just a low-level meth dealer and con artist. Until something switched in him and he decided to go on a killing spree that included killing the fashion world’s favourite designer.
Cunahan is played here by Darren Criss, a mostly theatre actor who you may or may not remember as Blaine Anderson in Glee. And, just one episode in, it’s fair to say already that Criss is outstanding in the role. Equally as impressive is the man behind Cunahan’s victim, Zero Dark Thirty and Che actor, Édgar Ramírez. The likeness between Ramírez and Versace is nothing short of incredible. Seriously. It’s actually quite unnerving at times.
The principal cast is filled out by two slightly more famous names. Penélope Cruz nails the accent as Versace’s sister Donatella and Ricky Martin nails the tight white tennis shorts as Versace’s live-in boyfriend, Antonio D’Amico.
The ‘La Vida Loca’ star’s tighty whities and the gaudy golden house the murder takes place outside of are not the only camp things in this opening fifty minutes. There are affected and theatrical elements to almost every scene, as you might expect and even demand from the subject matter and from the man behind Glee. But don’t let the highly camp atmosphere distract you – this is a twisted tale and, as the series evolves, we’re certain to see even more of the crazed psyche and violent mindset of Cunahan.
The series is based on Maureen Orth’s book Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in US History, and points out in the closing credits of episode 1 that while what we’re seeing is very much a true story, some elements are – and will be – dramatised for effect. This is no documentary, but – we’re led to believe – the narrative doesn’t veer greatly from the truth.
There’s a fair amount of exposition in this first outing, as is somewhat required to flesh out some of the background to the story. It’s not always the most subtle, but nor is it hugely clunky or jarring. Subtlety isn’t really the point here, anyway. This was – and remains – a truly sensational story about an assassination that, if the show proves a hit, might just be about to make a certain Andrew Cunahan closer to a household name than ever before.
You can join us back here every week for reviews of each instalment of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.
Did you catch The Assassination of Gianni Versace episode 1? What did you make of it? Let us know in the comments below!
Still catching up on The Assassination of Gianni Versace episode 2? Read Steve’s review of episode 1 here.
Fans of complex narratives, rejoice. Fans of simpler, more linear storytelling, lament. Only, as with so many modern films and television shows, it seems that The Assassination of Gianni Versace is taking a rather complex route in laying out its fascinating story.
Like Christopher Nolan’s Memento and the BBC’s recent serial killer thriller Rellik, this American Crime Story follow-up to The People Vs. O J Simpson is – mostly – telling its story backwards. With each episode outlining the events immediately before the previous instalment. So with last week’s opener showing us the brutal murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace, this week’s events centre around his murderer Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) arriving in Miami. On the run after a rampage that saw him killing four people across the United States.
The chronology isn’t quite that simple, though. Pre-titles we’re shown the very sombre follow-on and fall-out from Versace’s shooting. So it appears that we’re running two timelines at once. Not only does it seem that the writers may well have been influenced by Nolan’s Memento, but they’re also fans of Inception too.
This second episode is called ‘Manhunt’ and shows Cunanan running from police after his pre-Versace murder spree. What we’re mostly enjoying so far here is the distinct lack of clichés around how the story is being told. That said, it isn’t exactly a very clichéd story…
Let’s put it this way: How many TV shows and movies about manhunts have you seen where the criminal on the run cleverly escapes the clutches of the police while screaming the words to ‘Gloria’ by Laura Branigan out of the window of their car as they drive away? Exactly.
Cunanan’s destination? Miami Beach (as we know). Somehow, the crazed and delusional killer instantly makes a friend there too. HIV-positive Ronnie (New Girl’s ever-excellent Max Greenfield) clearly knows there’s something off about his new pal and you get the distinct sense that he realises that nothing good can come of their relationship. But our manipulative lead character here is, bizarrely, really quite irresistible.
The pair do coke in a dingy cheap hotel room at a rather sharp contrast to Cunahan’s soon-to-be victim Gianni Versace (Edgar Ramírez) and his boyfriend Antonio D’Amico’s (Ricky Martin), who are seen living it up at their mansion, in exclusive nightclubs and at one of Versace’s huge fashion shows.
Props have to go to the costume department here. Versace’s show has a catwalk show scene full of gorgeous Versace outfits. Except they’re not really Versace outfits. The fashion house wouldn’t allow any of their pieces to be used in American Crime Story, so all the Versace apparel had to be recreated. It’s impressive work too. ‘Cameos’ from Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and supermodel Naomi Campbell add to the impressive realism of this scene.
This second episode features an early nomination for Weirdest TV Scene of the Year. Cunahan decides, to earn some money, to take on ‘a client’. An old rich guy who fancies an hour or two of submission, tied up to a swanky hotel bed. Cue our anti-hero manically wrapping the elderly man’s head up tightly in duct tape to a soundtrack of Phil Collins’ Easy Lover. So that’s a little Memento, a sprinkling of Inception and about six large bowls full of American Psycho thrown into this episode. And it’s all the better for it.
Criss managed to make Cunahan really quite scary in the opening episode. And if this second hour does anything, it really allows him to crank things up and seriously terrify us with his portrayal of the weirdly little-known murderer. Where many on-screen psychopaths scare us with their brute strength, viciousness and almost monster-like brutality, Cunanan unsettles with his unnerving verbosity. Finally making his way into Twist, the club Versace frequents, he’s approached by a guy on the dancefloor who asks him who he is and what he does:
“I’m Andy. I’m a serial killer… I said I’m a banker. I’m a stockbroker. I’m a shareholder. I’m a paperback writer. I’m a cop. I’m a naval officer. Sometimes I’m a spy. I build movie sets in Mexico and skyscrapers in Chicago. I sell propane in Minneapolis, import pineapples from the Philippines. You know, I’m the person least likely to be forgotten. I’m Andrew Cunanan.”
That’s a creepy guy right there.
The backwards storytelling may confuse a few viewers, but it’s also pretty exciting. Each week is going to let us further pull back the curtain/duct tape on this fascinating and utterly terrifying man.
Did you tune in for The Assassination of Gianni Versace episode 2? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Still catching up on The Assassination of Gianni Versace episode ? Read Steve’s review of episode 2 here.
“What terrifies you more?” Andrew Cunanan asks a ‘friend’ of his midway through this week’s American Crime Story. “Death or being disgraced?” Disgrace? Disgrace isn’t so bad. You get used to it…”
And Cunahan should know. Everything he does is disgraceful. In fact, just moments after asking Chicago property tycoon Lee Miglin that question, he drops a block of concrete on his head and stabs the bound and gagged man repeatedly with a screwdriver.
This whole second series of ACS is all about disgrace and shame. The first run of the crime anthology – The People Vs. O J Simpson – was all about echoing current concerns over race using a famous murder from modern history. And this follow-up also reflects topical issues, this time the societal and psychological difficulties faced by many LGBT people – an issue close to the heart of the show’s creator, Ryan Murphy.
In episode 3 we see two very different gay men, both dipped in disgrace and shame, but for very different reasons. Lee Miglin is a successful Chicago businessman and closeted homosexual who’s spent his entire adult life suppressing his sexuality, wracked by shame and in fear of having his secret exposed and being publicly ‘disgraced’. His secret was to emerge, but only after the 72-year-old became Andrew Cunanan’s third victim.
Cunanan himself is less concerned with covering up his homosexuality. And even less concerned with covering up his murders. The real shame and disgrace here are reserved for him. And rightly so. He is, after all, a pathological liar who tortures and kills people he knows, has been in relationships with and even greatly admires.
But is it admiration…? Miglin was planning on building the world’s tallest structure. Gianni Versace was the world’s most famous fashion designer. Cunanan was drawn to – and killed – both. Perhaps his motivation was more unbridled and untamed jealousy more than adulation.
We saw both his third and fourth victim this week. Miglin’s murder, with its elements of sexual sadism, was hideous and dangerously close to being gratuitous. But there was something somehow even more shocking in the dead-eyed way Cunanan later rather unnecessarily puts a bullet through the head of a man begging for his life, just so he could steal his truck. Darren Criss has a chillingly bored look on his face as he coldy dispatches the man. It’s so cold in fact that the brief scene leaves you with chills.
This instalment of The Assassination of Gianni Versace, ‘A Random Killing’, is the first not to feature the eponymous Italian. And while that may seem a little odd for a show about him, it’s really not an issue. There are 9 episodes in total, so there’s still plenty of time to dive back into Versace’s pool and swim around. And no doubt we’ll all be back in some nice tight Speedos again next week.
In fact, it’s almost quite nice to get away from the searing heat of Miami Beach and spend the fifty minutes up in chilly Chicago. While, of course, this episode still heavily features the crazed spree killer that dominates the series, it’s really about the marriage of Lee Miglin and his loving but ultimately rejected wife, Marilyn. While their union may technically be a sham, the fact is never acknowledged formally and the thin veneer of deniability is played with such poised delicacy by Mike Farrell and Judith Light here that it’s genuinely touching and often quite heartbreaking. Their love isn’t a romantic one, but it’s strong enough and respectful enough to almost have made it all worthwhile. Almost.
When Lee’s body is discovered bound, gagged and surrounded by gay porno magazines, an unfazed Marilyn demands the police treat and report the case as a break-in gone wrong. A ‘random killing’. She doesn’t want Lee’s shame revealed. And she doesn’t want her sham revealed, either. Light’s performance here is fantastically subtle. But Farrell steals the show as the sweet and tragic figure of Miglin.
It’s just a bit of a shame we won’t be seeing either of them again.
Did you tune in for The Assassination of Gianni Versace episode 3? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Still catching up on The Assassination of Gianni Versace episode 4? Read Steve’s review of episode 3 here.
The runaway success of the maiden run of American Crime Story, The People Vs. O J Simpson, dealt with a multi-faceted crime that had everything a drama series could ever want: murder, deception, media sensationalism and a long-running court case, complete with a highly controversial verdict. It even had an extremely Hollywood live-action car chase ferchrissakes.
Such was the reception to series 1 that fans were hyped to find out which famous true crime would inspire its follow-up. And while there was little in the way of explicit criticism, plenty of murmurs before The Assassination of Gianni Versace began airing suggested that this ‘fan shoots fashion designer’ story wasn’t really enough to justify and hold its entire 450-minute running time. Thankfully, those murmurs have been proven quite wrong.
The main reason this story is more than capable of supporting a nine-part series is that Versace’s killer, Andrew Cunanan, has a story which is much deeper, darker and more grotesquely fascinating than many people realised, with most people, in fact, barely knowing who he was before this series. Another large factor is that each of his crimes is treated with time, patience and pretty much a full episode each. It’s as though each week is a separate play exploring one of the strings of the man’s diabolical murders, with Darren Criss’s Cunahan in the lead and one of his tragic victims in the supporting role.
We’re sure Signori Versace’s story will pick back up next week or the week after, but this first half of American Crime Story series 2 should really, by rights, be called ‘The Assassin of Gianni Versace’ instead, such is the emphasis so far on the gunman and his rampage.
This fourth episode, again, is stolen by the actors playing Cunahan’s victims. We’re sure Edgar Ramirez will have his chance later in the series, but last week we had the Miglins adding real pathos and emotion to events. And this week it’s his second victim, David Madson, who propels the episode – and the man playing him, newcomer Cody Fern, does truly a sterling job bringing him alive (albeit all too briefly).
Only slightly out of the closet, Madson is a young guy, an up-and-coming Minneapolis architect (what is it about that profession? Cunanan’s third victim Lee Miglin was also an architect…). He and Cunanan are former lovers and take to the road – to Cunanan’s mind – like Bonnie and Clyde, after Andrew smashes in the head of their mutual friend Jeff Trail. But, in reality, he basically kidnaps David and forces him to flee with him.
As with last week, there’s a further exploration into the idea of how shame and embarrassment work for gay people, this time via flashbacks to David’s childhood relationship with his father and how he came out to him – his main concern throughout their bizarre post-hammer time road trip being that his parents would be shamed by their homosexual son and his connection to a brutal ‘gay crime’.
While these fascinating and touching dives into the victims’ lives are welcome and provide excellent drama, they are a real juxtaposition with our spree killer Andrew Cunanan. He’s been at the crux of everything so far and will, presumably, continue to be. And yet still we know almost nothing about him and his true motives – although that is almost certain to change soon, we’re sure.
We’ve seen all of the victims come and go now, so the ‘what?’ and ‘who?’ parts of this season’s American Crime Story are out of the way. We’re really just left with the ‘why?’ – and with just over half the run left, we’re hopeful we’ll find out some of those answers…
Did you tune in for The Assassination of Gianni Versace episode 4? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Still catching up on The Assassination of Gianni Versace episode 5? Read Steve’s review of episode 4 here.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
That was the official name of Bill Clinton’s 1993 policy on how to treat gay people in the US military. While technically outlawing discrimination, the ruling barred anyone in the forces from being openly gay, lesbian or bisexual. Why? Well, because ‘demonstrating a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts creates an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability.’ Apparently.
That policy, supported by only 23% of American citizens at the time it was introduced, was only formerly scrapped in 2011. Just seven years ago.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” also happens to be the title of this week’s episode of American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace. And with good reason. The main focus of this fifth episode of ACS series 2 is ostensibly homosexuality in the military. Seem a little strange for a crime drama about the murder of a fashion designer? Well, perhaps. But as we’ve already seen, this is no ordinary crime drama.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace isn’t a police procedural, or even a full examination into the twisted mind of the man who shot Gianni Versace. It’s a show about very real issues. One that, thankfully, can deal with them seriously, sensitively and with the lightest of touches. In the wrong hands, an hour about the difficulties of coming out could seem heavy handed. Gladly, that’s not a problem here.
The focus this week is the juxtaposition between two very different men experiencing the same dilemma. But where we see how difficult Andrew Cunanan’s first victim Jeff Trails finds coming out while serving in the US Navy (and how the process effectively ruins his career), it’s a different story for Signori Versace. Despite his concerns, when he publicly outs himself to Advocate magazine during an interview in Milan, his bravery is celebrated and his career is buoyed.
It seems as though class, wealth, fame and the ability to make fabulous clothes affords you certain privileges when it comes to how people view you.
It’s good to see Édgar Ramírez, Ricky Martin and Penélope Cruz back this week after a couple of episodes away – if for no other reason than Versace’s outrageous collection of rainbow-coloured silk shirts. While it was only a fleeting scene, seeing Versace inviting his long-term partner Antonio onto the sofa to be interviewed alongside him arguably offered the episode’s most touching moment.
Over in Minneapolis, we see Andrew’s arrival and get the background as to just why Jeff and David were so weary of him. Both know his propensity to lie, cheat and steal yet neither know his willingness to pick up a hammer or gun in anger quite yet. The fact that we know what’s coming makes the tone all the more eerie and Cunanan’s behaviour somehow even more reprehensible.
Weirdly, this pre-murder spree Andrew is actually quite a bit more unsettling and jarring than the one we’ve grown used to these past four or so weeks. But, for the first time, we see his charming and charismatic side – the side that made Jeff take to him in the first time. Walking into his first gay bar in San Diego, sailor Jeff quickly changes his mind about being in there and turns to leave, until Andrew introduces himself and, in a weirdly sweet moment, sets about buying him a few drinks and befriending him.
As in episode 3 and episode 4, the main cast is great, but it’s a supporting actor that steals the show. In this fifth episode it’s Finn Wittrock as Jeff. We saw him briefly last week getting his skull caved in, but here we really see a torn and desperate young man. The near-attempted suicide scene is genuinely heartbreaking.
As touching, dramatic and worthy as this week’s instalment of American Crime Story was, unfortunately it did exercise its creative licence quite a lot. Trail’s departure from the Navy wasn’t the way the show outlines here and there’s no record of the vicious attack Trail stopped or the wince-inducing tattoo self-removal incident. We’ve no issue with a little story massaging for dramatic purposes, but this tale hardly seems to need it. The facts are outrageous enough.
We’re now more than halfway through this truly excellent series. We’re seeing Andrew’s personality and motives finally being fleshed out. But will next week’s instalment finally go into just what it is that made him so preoccupied with Gianni Versace…?
Well, as Bill once said – don’t ask, don’t tell.
Did you tune in for The Assassination of Gianni Versace episode 5? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Still catching up on The Assassination of Gianni Versace episode 6? Read Steve’s review of episode 5 here.
We’ve been extremely impressed by this second series of American Crime Story so far. The Assassination of Gianni Versace has gifted us a fascinating look into the life of the man responsible for the death of the famous fashion designer. It’s also given us some rather thought-provoking subtexts centring around gay life and some of the many issues faced by the LGBT community, especially back in the 1990s. But one thing that’s been lacking up until now is an explanation as to motive… Why?
Why did Andrew Cunanan shoot Versace dead? Why did he kill Lee Miglin? Why murder David Madson and Jeff Trail? Why kill truck owner William Reese when he seemingly didn’t need to?
Telling its story backwards means we’ve now seen Cunanan’s crimes in all their gore and cold-blooded horror. We’ve seen him plotting, scheming, lying, stealing and killing. But without background or motivation, all we’re looking at is an American psycho. A gay Patrick Bateman. This week, however, that all changed. Now we kind of know at least some of those all-important whys.
This sixth episode of nine opens in La Jolla, a rich part of San Diego. An extravagantly opulent – and extremely nineties – house is hosting Andrew’s birthday. Judging by the free-flowing Champagne and calibre of guests, you’d have to surmise that Andrew was, at this point, doing rather well for himself. But it soon becomes apparent that he’s effectively a hired live-in lover to his rich older ‘partner’ (or client), a handsome businessman in his sixties called Norman Blachford.
Soon, we learn that David, Andrew’s second victim, is coming over and that Andrew is in love with him. By the end of the evening, it’s clear to our sociopath lead character (played by Darren Criss, who seriously just gets better and better by the week) that David may need some convincing. A flash vacation in Los Angeles is hastily arranged. It ends badly and David makes his position clear. The feelings are not mutual.
Enraged but defiant, Andrew presents Norman with a new and long list of demands. Including becoming the sole heir to the fortune of his older ‘lover’. Norman rejects the idea and Andrew storms off after smashing a chair through a glass table in a chillingly violent hint of what he’s later to be capable of.
The resentment bubbles up. Cunanan hates having to service older men like Norman and Lee who he doesn’t love just for the status and money he thinks is owed him. He hates loving younger men who don’t return his love, like David. The hate builds up and up until he’s ready to explode. His motivations are becoming clear.
This sixth part of The Assassination of Gianni Versace introduces two other possible whys into the enigma of our killer… Drugs and Mama. When things are going Andrew’s way, he celebrates with cocaine. When they’re not, he turns to crystal meth. When things are spiralling out of control, he turns to his delusional, mentally unstable and borderline unhinged mother. None of these things, as you can imagine, help straighten him out much.
One why we are still left to ponder is why Gianni Versace? The only hint we got this week was in a meth fantasy/dream sequence in which Andrew laments to his tailor, a certain Italian man with wavy blonde hair, about his luck…
“What could be more generous than spending everything on other people and being left with nothing? What could be more generous than finding soul mates for other people and then ending up alone?”
“People have taken from me, and taken from me, and taken and taken from me. Now I’m spent. And they say this man has nothing left to give. And a man with nothing to give is a nothing man.”
“This world has wasted me. It has wasted me while it has turned you, Mr Versace, into a star.”
Could it just be that? Delusions of grandeur, resentment and jealousy? We guess we’ll find out exactly why over the course of the next three weeks.
Did you tune in for The Assassination of Gianni Versace episode 6? Let us know in the comments below!
Still catching up on The Assassination of Gianni Versace episode 7? Read Steve’s review of episode 6 here.
When you’re telling a story in long form, you need to pace yourself. With any drama there’s always a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s the classic three-act structure. If your story is a work of fiction, you can add spice and intrigue and, well, whatever you want. You need to keep the audience rapt until the dramatic final scene. If your story is based on reality, though? Well, you need to be smart with how you tell it. Especially if that story is really just ‘a very famous man got shot’.
American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace is, as we know by now, told backwards. But consider how it would have played out were they to have relayed the story in a more traditional way, in chronological order. The final instalment, episode 9, would feature the shooting. Requiring some 400 minutes of build-up to the main event, and with Andrew Cunanan’s murders being bunched together in a spree, the audience would have to wait some five episodes to see their first murder. That’s some leap of faith that’s required.
So, sensibly, The Assassination of Gianni Versace opted for a reverse narrative style that allowed us to get the money ‘shot’ nice and early. The only downside to toploading a nine-episode run? There’s a very real chance that things will start to tail off a little towards the end. And, for the first time here in episode 7, ‘Ascent’, that’s exactly what we’re faced with.
In one way this lack of any real story is quite useful. We see Cunanan helpless and pathetic and understand his ‘social climbing at any cost’ mentality and where it comes from. But for a show that’s brought us murder, plotting, style, tension and real verve, this week’s was – dare we say it – just a wee bit dull.
Even the episode’s highlights lack any real punch. Sure, we see how Andrew seduced David in San Francisco and how he came to meet Norman. But we already know the details from earlier weeks. That said, there is some solace to be taken from occasional details. David’s childhood tale of a promise made to a bullied friend was touching. And when Andrew steals the memory for his own purposes later on, repurposing it for personal gain, he sullies such a sweet thing in a way that only a truly damaged sociopath can.
Again, we have to applaud Darren Criss’ performance here. At once he makes Cunanan a dead-eyed narcissist and a vulnerable kid. A spoiled brat at home with his mother and a charming socialite while out for an evening at the theatre in the company of older gentlemen.
For a few weeks now we’ve complained that The Assassination of Gianni Versace was lacking the ‘Gianni Versace’ part. This week we were treated to a healthy dose of the man – although ‘healthy’ may be the wrong word, given that we see the fashion designer struggling with what seems to be HIV, something Versace’s family have always disputed. He debuts a daring new dress with his sister Donatella as his model, as part of a symbolic ‘handover of the business’, it seems.
As touching as this should be, it just lacks any real drama. Again, there is one sweet moment, when the two sit down to design a dress together. But the lack of scope in the episode and the rather ropey set design left us cold.
There are two episodes left. We’re still yet to really see what Andrew Cunanan’s motive was for killing Versace, if there even was one. Plus, of course, we still – when we go back to the future – have the manhunt. Here’s hoping episodes 8 and 9 pick up and this was just a minor blip to an otherwise gripping crime drama.
Our hunch? This was a six-part series stretched a little too far.
Did you tune in for The Assassination of Gianni Versace episode 7? Let us know in the comments below!
Still catching up on The Assassination of Gianni Versace episode 8? Read Steve’s review of episode 7 here.
If we very briefly imagine the previous seven hours of American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace as a kind of twisted superhero movie, then this eighth episode is very much the ‘origins’ prequel. The penultimate episode reaches way, way back into the two lives of the main protagonists and gives some fascinating and much-needed context and explanation for the grisly events that were to follow.
This week’s slice of The Assassination of Gianni Versace recovers well from previous weeks’ ever-so-slight slackness, delivering a quite remarkable hour of television. It’s a tale of childhood. Well, two childhoods, to be exact. The first is that of the famous fashion designer of the title. We see his supportive, caring and loving mother nurturing his gift for design and instilling into him values like hard work and dedication. The second childhood is that of Andrew Cunanan’s – the spree killer who would go on to gun Versace down outside his home in 1997. As you can imagine, the parallels between the two backstories are limited, to say the very least…
While Young Versace is encouraged, involved and taught how things work, Young Cunanan is put on a mile-high pedestal by his domineering father. Constantly told he’s special and better than others with little explanation as to why, we quickly discover how Andrew grows up into the man he does. He sees his father schmooze, lie, cheat, scheme, steal, use violence and ultimately run when things got too hot – tricks the older Andrew will employ all too readily as 1997 approaches.
The reverse chronology of the series has left us wondering if we would get a full explanation or exploration as to Andrew’s psychology and, at the beginning of this week’s instalment, we were still slightly concerned. But such was the level of detail and realism that followed, the audience’s patience and dedication so far were to be rewarded no end. Our killer is now a fully-rounded figure.
There’s been a rather familiar pattern to this series and this week’s episode wasn’t keen to break the mould. Each episode seems to glimpse the famous Versace but cut away from him – leaving you wanting more. We’re then shown Andrew Cunanan, expertly and mesmerisingly played by Darren Criss. To top it off, every week, a new character is paraded and the actor behind them totally steals the show. This week that thief is John John Briones, who steals the show so brazenly and completely there should probably be a warrant out for the man’s arrest.
While portraying Andrew’s abusive father Modesto Cunanan, a Filipino immigrant, Briones also guides us through a secondary subtext – that of the deception of The American Dream. It’s a familiar trope for US TV and movies to explore, but it’s no less fascinating for it. Modesto buys into ‘The Dream’. He works hard. He starts a family. He continues to work hard. He erects a flag in his front yard that he proudly salutes each morning. He carries on working hard… And in the end? He’s left with very little. The American Dream works for America, but not the average American. It’s an interesting side note to the episode’s narrative and helps round out Andrew Cunanan’s worldview somewhat.
Another little story that’s played out – again, not first the first time – is that of the damage that greed can do. Modesto’s trade is stockbroking and seeing his rise and fall brings to mind shades of Oliver Stone’s Wall Street and Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. The violence and destruction that the 1980’s need for greed caused also hints a little at Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho.
The structure of this series, which we had been slightly concerned about, has turned out to be a stroke of genius. We started with the crime. Then we slowly worked backwards to see how it came to be. And just as we learn the ‘origins’ backstory of Versace’s murderer and begin to feel sorry for him, we move into next week’s final episode. Where, presumably, we’ll see the cold-blooded slaying once more and the frantic manhunt, followed by the story’s conclusion.
There is still a slight disconnect between Andrew Cunanan the man and Andrew Cunanan the murderer, though. Perhaps the final episode will fill in that blank for us. Or perhaps we’ll be left with the altogether more difficult dilemma of how to process a strangely likeable killer of four innocent people. We’ll have to wait and see.
Did you tune in for The Assassination of Gianni Versace episode 8? How are you enjoying this series of American Crime Story? Let us know in the comments below!
Still catching up on The Assassination of Gianni Versace episode 9? Read Steve’s review of episode 8 here.
The ninth and final episode of the second series of American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace was a tidy if somewhat underwhelming 55 minutes of television. Slowly, over the past eight-odd hours, this true crime tale has built and built, peaking over its last few instalments as it benefits from a reverse storytelling plot device. As such, it was always going to be difficult to wring too much tension out of the story’s crescendo, given that it’s an ending that the viewing public is mostly familiar with.
We kick off with the eponymous murder. As it’s pretty well detailed and shown in the first episode, we quickly skip to the aftermath of events. But instead of focusing on the manhunt and how police captured Versace’s killer, Andrew Cunanan, we again end up dwelling on the man himself. And when he spends the entire post-Versace slaying part of his life holed in an apartment watching television before blowing his brains out, it doesn’t exactly make for gripping television.
We see minor glimpses of the cops’ efforts, including an interview with the criminally underused Max Greenfield. His character Ronnie may not have been pivotal to the story these past nine weeks, but the New Girl star lit up the screen every time he popped up with his handlebar moustache and baggy vests.
It was good to see a return for Judith Light to this final slice of The Assassination of Gianni Versace too. Along with Jon Jon Briones as Modesto Cunanan, Light – as Marilyn Miglin – came very close to stealing the entire series away from the main players of the piece. Almost, but not quite…
Whether he’s preppy and cocky, sad and alone, angry and gun-toting or shaven-headed and suicidal, Darren Criss, as Andrew Cunanan, utterly convinces at all times. Anyone hoping for a Gianni Versace biopic will have been disappointed by this series, but anyone hoping for a fascinating portrait of a social-climbing serial killer who’s equal parts sociopathic and vulnerable will have been elated. Criss runs away with the series and surely has Hollywood at his fingertips after this incredible performance.
So this last episode may have disappointed us a little. But that’s really only because of the high standard set by the rest of the series. All in all this follow-up to The People Vs O J Simpson was excellent. Gripping, intelligent, gorgeous looking, fantastically acted and subtle and mature in its subtexts and allegory, we’d be extremely surprised to see The Assassination of Gianni Versace not walk off with at least a few Emmys or Golden Globes come awards season.
The jewel in this anthology’s crown – and what we hope will lend it some real longevity as a television drama – is that it’s about more than just its story. Sure, we learned about the murder of Versace here – but we discovered more about the man responsible and his twisted motives. And even better? This was about more than Cunanan and his gun. It was about the 1990s. It was about the struggles of the gay community. It was about HIV. It was about conflict. Family. Parenting. The weight of parental expectation and how twisted the ‘American Dream’ can get.
It’s not often a TV crime drama ends and we immediately think about the next series – but with this, we can’t help ourselves. Which famous US crime can they use as a framework for the follow-up series…? We can’t wait to find out.
Did you tune in for The Assassination of Gianni Versace episode 9? Were you as impressed? Let us know in the comments below!