Mini-Series Review: 'The Assassination of Gianni Versace'

ON July 15, 1997, the world was shocked when internationally famous designer Gianni Versace was shot to death right in front of his Miami Beach mansion. Just like John Lennon, he was killed by a psychotic man with a handgun. It was of special interest to Pinoys because his killer, Andrew Cunanan, has a Filipino dad. 

“The Assassination of Gianni Versace” is an FX mini series in “American Crime Story” that follows the O.J. Simpson mini-series. This is also interesting for us Pinoys as the actor who plays Cunanan, Darren Criss, is also half Pinoy. His mom is Pinay. He’s best known as Blaine in the hit Fox TV musical series, “Glee”, from 2010 to 2015 and now stars in the new mini series, "Hollywood".

The series is based on the book “Vulgar Favors” by Maureen Orth, a nonfiction account of Andrew’s sickening crimes. It starts with a big bang as the opening scene shows Andrew coldbloodedly shooting Versace pointblank right in front of the gate of the designer’s home. Then, as the common style of storytelling today, the narrative is not told chronologically but unfolds slowly, moving back and forth in time and getting unnecessarily convoluted at times.

Unlike the O.J. Simpson mini series which has 10 episodes but all of them vital to the entire narrative, this mini series feels needlessly stretched and padded to a needless 9 episodes. The big difference is that in O.J.’s mini-series, we as audience is involved in helping solve a murder-mystery. In the Versace series, we get inside the mind of a remorseless sociopathic killer. Before Versace, he has murdered four other men in a grisly killing spree across several states.

The whole story could have been told in about 4 compact episodes at the most, but the show chooses to devote entire episodes to minor characters, like that of Jeff Trail (played Finn Wittrock), a closeted navy man victimized by homophobic discrimination who Andrew brutally bludgeons to death with a hammer, and Marilyn Miglin (Judith Light), a perfume magnate whose husband is also mercilessly tortured and killed by Andrew. 

Andrew’s background as a child is shown much, much later. He has a Filipino father, Modesto (Jonjon Briones, the Engineer of the “Miss Saigon” revival who’s exceptionally good in his role here as the villainous dad), and an Italian mom (Joanna Adler.) He has older siblings but he is his dad’s favorite. They move to a new place in San Diego so he can study in an exclusive school. 

His dad is a stockbroker who turns out to be an embezzler and flies back to the Philippines to avoid being arrested. Andrew is smart, good looking, witty and articulate so he can easily impress anyone. He wants a life of luxury but instead of working, he chooses to be the kept boy of older gays, like it’s the perverted version of the American dream. The problem is he tends to be quite abusive in milking them, asking for bigger cash allowances and demanding that he always travels first class, so it comes as no surprise that they eventually dump him. 

Andrew meets Versace in a gay club in San Francisco and gets invited as Versace’s guest in an opera performance of “Capriccio”. He then brags to his friends that Versace is getting him to be his assistant to be taken to his tours in various countries, which, of course, is just a fantasy. He gets so obsessed with Versace and his huge success in the fashion world, eventually stalking him in Miami and killing him.

Edgar Ramirez is given top billing as Versace and his rise from being a simple dressmaker’s son in Italy to become one of the biggest names in fashion is also shown here. It also shows his relationship with his sister Donatella (Penelope Cruz) and his long time lover, Antonio (Ricky Martin), who are always at odds with each other. 

But make no mistake about this, as he is just a name on the title. The real protagonist here is Darren Criss as Andrew. He mesmerizingly disappears in his role and totally inhabits the Cunanan persona, giving a finely nuanced, career-defining performance in the way he walks, moves, talks and tells his lies. No wonder he won the Emmy and Golden Globe best actor awards for a mini series. Penelope Cruz also stands out as the grieving sister but she certainly doesn’t look like the real Donatella, whose face has now been inadvertently ravaged by cosmetic retokes. There's a sequence showing Andrew going to Manila to confront his dad, but you all know it's "daya" and they didn't really shoot here on location.