The first season of American Crime Story which chronicled The People v. O. J. Simpson approached the 1994 murder trial from both a micro and macro view. It not only took a look at O.J. Simpson’s thought process, but the many elements around him as well. Ryan Murphy’s then new venture was successful because there was a wealth of story behind it. It also told the story of the trial in a way that was fresh, given that there were many documentaries on the subject.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story starts off with two viewpoints. A credit to cinematographer Nelson Cragg – in this six to seven minute scene, they were able to capture the essence of Miami and the contrast between Gianni Versace (Édgar Ramírez) and Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss). You get to see the grandiose and extravagant Versace mansion juxtaposed to Cunanan sitting on a beach before he commits the murder.
The murder occurred in 1997, so this pre-dates social media and instant news. The scenes with the locals, the Polaroid, and the “blood magazine” was considered this almost macabre memorabilia. The O.J. Simpson trial started three years before the murder. Although, Gianni Versace’s death was not covered in the way that the trial was, there is still a bridge to the cult of personality that society had with “celebrities.”
Like last season, it’s all about performances.
Darren Criss, from what we know of Andrew Cunanan, is very convincing. Cunanan is shown to be a very manipulative person who intercedes and parses stories to get a means to an end. It’s almost fantasy-like in the relationship that Cunanan is said to have had with Versace and the show does not back away from this. This will be a theme going forward. What is real and what is in Andrew Cunanan’s head? The show is supposed to have Gianni Versace as the dominant figure, but it will be Andrew Cunanan and trying to figure out a motive.
Penelope Cruz’s portrayal as Donatella Versace comes in the second half of the episode. You see her as someone who just lost her brother and also has to keep the empire going admits the chaos. Hopefully, the show goes more into what how close her and Gianni was in future episodes. The unsung hero may be Ricky Martin as Antonio D’Amico, Gianni’s boyfriend. Along with the actual crime, this season will deal with the view of homosexuality in the 1990s.
There are two instances where this stands out. As D’Amico talks to the police and their bias and almost flippant response to him being Gianni’s partner. Given that there were many clues to capture Andre Cunanan even before the murder occurred, this speaks to homophobia within the police force. Also, in meeting with the family, there’s a tense relationship there as they try to figure out what Gianni’s legacy would be. Despite D’Amico having a 15 year relationship with him, he did not have much say because being gay was still a taboo subject.
It was put on the surface in the opening episode, but there’s a critique on how the gay population was looked at in society. Unfortunately, a derogatory word was very common in descriptions. It was very much-kept in secret and there is also the question of partners and what rights do they have once they become widows.
While the story to start is very compelling, the challenges lie ahead to see if the intrigue will be sustainable for eight more episodes. It’s a bold move to start the series with the murder, but as murky as the “motive” is, one has to wonder if there is enough there. The O.J. Simpson trial had years of story. The murder of Gianni Versace may be more cut and dry.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10