The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (2018) Review



While the title is misleading as the show is mainly about Versace’s killer, it is bolstered by a tremendous performance by Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan.

Plot: Male prostitute Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) goes on a killing spree, highlighted by the murder of famed designer Gianni Versace (Édgar Ramírez).

Review: I was twenty when Gianni Versace was murdered on the steps of his mansion in Miami, and didn’t really read much into the case. I knew about Andrew Cunanan only because he was an entry in a book of serial killers I read as part of my preparations to re-write my novel, Random Acts of Violence (cheap plug). I didn’t really look much into the murder or Cunanan’s previous crimes, and he was just a footnote to me as a name amongst many maniacs who killed people.

The Assassination of Gianni Versace isn’t going to tell you a lot about the man himself. There is some Versace stuff in the series – convincing Donatella she’s a worthy designer, coming out, and his ear cancer that some people whisper may have been HIV. As far as a three-dimensional character, though, I don’t think he comes across as anything more than an insert to pad the series. Penelope Cruz stands out more as Versace’s enigmatic sister, but even she feels forced into the series more than anything. People laud Ricky Martin for his performance as Versace’s boyfriend and don’t get me wrong, he’s fine in the role, but again, wasn’t needed.

No, this show is all about the killer. In fact, a more apt title for the show is “Gianni Versace’s Killer: American Crime Story.” Darren Criss is the true star of the series as the flamboyant and charismatic spree killer Andrew Cunanan. Most of the series highlights Cunanan’s weird childhood, wild lifestyle, relationships built on lies, and gradual descent and downfall. Likewise, a lot of attention is given to each of Cunanan’s victims before Versace, except for William Reese, who feels like a footnote.

What makes this series work is Darren Criss’s outstanding performance as Cunanan. While previously known for his musical roles, like Glee, his performance is star-making. Criss is, by different turns, desperate and confident, ascendant and spiralling, incredibly happy and gloweringly angry. He is one of the most relatable yet terrifying killers I’ve seen in any form, and it’s his turn as Cunanan that kept me tuning in. While the story around him doesn’t always work (for example, I wasn’t that interested in his burgeoning romance with David Madson), Criss always finds a way to keep things interesting.

The other problem I had with the series, besides the Versace shoehorns into the story, was the structure of the story. It’s told backwards, so you see Cunanan’s last murder first and then jump around in time, but you always see the murders before the relationships he built with the victims leading to their deaths. It takes all the guesswork and drama out of most of the series, yet they decide to show Cunanan’s inevitable demise in the final episode. It’s a strange choice, and it doesn’t always work.

The show also does a damn good job showing off Miami, not only the beaches and posh neighbourhoods but also the seedy underbelly. While the initial series, the People v. O.J. Simpson, could have been shot anywhere as not a lot of that series was what I would consider “uniquely California,” Miami feels like a character for the part it plays in the series.

For those who want their biopics to be close to actual events as possible, I warn that this series is probably the furthest off from recorded fact from the actual events it portrays. Much of that was just the nature of the beast – the show dramatizes conversations and interactions that the writers would not have known. With Cunanan unable to tell his own story, we’re left with a lot of supposition and imaginings. Luckily, we have Darren Criss to do such a magnificent job that it’s not hard to believe what you see on the screen.