The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story created by Ryan Murphy (FX, Ryan Murphy Productions, Color Force)
Starring Édgar Ramírez, Darren Criss, Ricky Martin, Penélope Cruz, Judith Light, Finn Wittrock, Joanna P. Adler, Jon Jon Briones, Mike Farrell, Cody Fern, and Max Greenfield.
Do Not Kill
I’m not planning on becoming a serial killer. Seriously, never.
But I find the most recent anthologized story on the assassination of Gianni Versace to paint a quasi-sympathetic portrait of a killer. Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) was a terrible person, and the Memento-style reverse storytelling technique ensures you see the worst of Andrew first.
But Andrew’s back story is somewhat tragic. A product of his circumstances, he can never quite feel like he has the life deserving of his talents and intellect.
While I make no claims to a superior anything, I can understand the feeling of not living up to what you think you can do, or comparable to what the Joneses are doing around you. And when it doesn’t feel like you are measuring up, the mind can go to some pretty dark places.
Millennial Issues/Gen X Issues/Baby Boomer Issues/Etc.
Maybe it’s just a product of this generation. We grow up getting told we can be anything we want to be but in reality, you can’t. That dream job is probably a mirage. The passion you have best left as a hobby.
So American Crime Story works diligently toward building the tension in the personality that is Andrew Cunanan. Because the story begins at the end, with the murder of Gianni Versace (Édgar Ramírez), backtracking to the other 4 murders in his spree, it is difficult to find much sympathy in Cunanan.
Whatever his upbringing, Cunanan killed 5 people, most of them in gruesome fashion or in execution style. Such actions are absolutely evil.
So, when the back half of the series explores Cunanan’s path to becoming a serial killer, the narrative works as exposition, but it doesn’t pull the emotion. Yet, the tension between the two never seems to resolve.
He Had It All? Or Did He Not Have Enough?
Guess what? Andrew Cunanan has it all living with a wealthy socialite, but he bit off more than he could chew; he asked for too much.
Guess what? Andrew Cunanan’s parents are messed up. His dad, Modesto (Jon Jon Briones), was a manipulative con-artist that showered affection on Andrew and set his boy against his mother, Mary Ann (Joanna P. Adler).
All the while, the mother extended a toxic codependency on Andrew that pushed him away.
In all, Darren Criss plays Cunanan with aplomb and I imagine award nominations are in the future.
True Crime as Meta-Narrative
But for me, American Crime Story sings best when it leverages its narrative to provide social commentary on its time. Where the previous season featuring the OJ Simpson trial explores race relations in the mid-90s, this Versace season uses the lives of Versace and Cunanan as mirror images of each other to explore the weight of living closeted in the 90s.
Versace represents all that could be for gay men: a successful, rich, and open individual. Cunanan represents the fear and torment of the closet, the violence lurking underneath.
In fact, the best episodes of this season look at these questions, especially a mid-season episode on “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” featuring one of Cunanan’s victims, Jeff Trail (Finn Wittrock).
No matter how bad life can get, it baffles the mind to consider snapping like Cunanan did. And Cunanan, while an attempt is made to show some sympathy, illustrates the worst and violent elements of humanity. And yet, this series asks questions much deeper than true crime. Worthwhile viewing.
Verdict: 3.5 out of 5