The opening sequence of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story is exquisitely presented.
Adagio in G Minor strings accompany the striking visuals of 1997 Miami (as used so dramatically in works such as Platoon and The Elephant Man).
It is a summer’s morning and Italian fashion designer Gianni Versaci (Édgar Ramírez) is enjoying the luxury of his lavish beachfront villa. Brimming in ornate interiors, classic furniture, artworks, flowers, pool, staircase and staff, there is colour bursting at every turn. It’s as if Tuscany has been transported onto American soil.
Meanwhile 27 year old Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) wades out into the ocean and screams at the top of his lungs. Clearly overwrought with feelings of anxiety, he soon throws up in a public toilet before -or possibly after- a catastrophic event.
Not long after Versace’s partner Antonio (Ricky Martin) readies for a round of sport and Florida tourists request Gianni’s autograph during his daily walk, Cunanan comes face to face with the designer at the gates to his villa and shoots him dead. It’s like a moment of high opera, and sets the scene for Ryan Murphy’s latest anthology series.
But how did the players arrive at this crescendo? The opening chapter of this 9 part series flashes back to Cunanan’s meeting with Versace in a heady gay disco in San Francisco. Ambitious, deceptive, handsome, Cunanan is determined to befriend the designer via whatever elaborate ruse he can fabricate. One gets the impression that nothing he says is real, so it becomes a question of whether he believes his spin or is knowingly lying through his teeth.
But Versace is entranced and the two forge the start of a 7 year friendship.
In the present -the narrative is constantly juxtaposed with the past- Cunanan is delirious with glee at his assassination but on the run from local police. Antonio is heartbroken by the death of his partner whilst Donatella Versace (Penélope Cruz) arrives to take control. Rigid and seemingly unmoved by the loss of her brother, she seizes control of the company, even displaying little sympathy for Antonio.
Tom Rob Smith’s script (based on the book Vulgar Favors by Maureen Orth) highlights crass pop culture crimes with one quick-thinking observer snapping a Polaroid of a near-dead Versace being loaded into the ambulance and soon demanding top dollar from arriving media; another moment from autograph-hunters has to be seen to be believed….
Whilst The People v. O.J. Simpson spent far more time on the courtroom and the Prosecution, Versace is heavily invested in why Cunanan took such fatal action, and what ithe saga says about American society.
Darren Criss, whose romantic work in Glee saw him become a Ryan Murphy favourite, takes a dark detour as the complex, malevolent Cunanan. He has the lion’s share of the narrative here, wooing and extinguishing the relaxed, gifted designer played gently by Édgar Ramírez.
Initially Penelope Cruz and Ricky Martin are chess players in the bigger game, so the series will need to develop them beyond the opening chapter -thankfully there is much to work with.
Visually this is a splendid piece. Some of the scenes, such as Cunanan sitting on the beach, are so artfully captured they resemble paintings. The canvas for such a heightened piece, including the actual Versace residence, gives cinematographer Nelson Cragg plenty to work with.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace is instantly beautiful and tortured all at the same time…
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story premieres 8:30pm Thursday on Showcase.