The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.
Unlike the first season of American True Crime Story, which was about OJ Simpson and everyone my age knew the story of, I was surprised to realise the Assassination of Gianni Versace was a story I had no idea existed. Somehow I’d never realised he’d been murdered let alone murdered by a serial killer.
Although the show is titled and framed around Versaces murder, as we move into the story we find it is actually about serial killer Andrew Cunanan – delusional, spoiled and probably a psychopath – and his 5-person killing spree that took place over 3 months in 1997, culminating in the killing of fashion mogul Gianni Versace in Florida.
The show takes a classic “start with the end point and then move backwards” approach, beginning with Cunanan’s final murder – Versace – then working back one by one to focus on each of the other men he murdered. Aside from an unfortunate park ranger who was a case of wrong place wrong time, most of the victims were gay men whose vulnerabilities Cunanan took advantage of in various ways, inserting himself into their lives and homes, lying about his past, confabulating his present.
He was trying to build a personality, a person, out of an empty shell, a lazy, petulant man child with no ambition, whose father doted on him above all his siblings, but who insisted he could – and must – be a success at all costs. After we discover his own father was a fake and a conman who then runs off on his supposed beloved son and family once the FBI figure him out, Cunanan’s subsequent breakdown and rampage of killings possibly becomes clearer – However this is all speculation, as there is no real evidence at all as to why Cunanan did any of what he did.
For me, though, the best thing about this series was that unlike many true crime shows, the story didn’t focus too gratuitously on on the killer, the murders, and his background and motivations – it also gave ample screen time to the victims, and their lives and how they often struggled with being gay in the 90s when we were in the era of “don’t ask don’t tell”. We have Ricky Martin’s surprisingly moving turn as Versace’s longtime partner Antonio DíAmico, dismissed as nothing and no one by Donatella and the family both before and after Versaces death. We see the sad back stories of gay bullying and family dismissal for Cunanan’s friends and victims Jeff Trail and David Madsen. And MASH’s Mike Farrell is a treat as architect Lee Miglin, his sweet relationship with his wife, the suggestion he lived a secret closeted gay life, was played with moving grace.
To give the victims such fleshed out and caring back stories was an approach I appreciated seeing, which is a shame given we cant know how much of the story is true – the whole series is based on journalist Maureen Orths book “Vulgar Favours”, and many people involved – Versaces family and boyfriend among others – have said is all complete fiction.
Others such as Cunanan’s own father probably cant be trusted to provide truths either given his own con artist past, and attempts even to shop his own son’s story to the media the moment he was done killing
But in any event, it was refreshing to see a true crime show give so much time to the victims and their life stories, as well as the killer’s. Something there should be more of in true crime TV, I reckon.
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