Just seven minutes into Wednesday night’s premiere of FX’s nine-part miniseries, “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,” the fashion designer is shot on the steps of his palatial Ocean Drive mansion.
The chilling scene is a powerful retelling of South Florida's most famous murder. Producer/director Ryan Murphy got the details right — down to how Versace’s flip-flops landed askew on the stone steps of Casa Casuarina on that fateful Tuesday morning.
Before the shooting, the episode juxtaposes the lives of killer and victim. Andrew Cunanan, played by “Glee” actor Darren Criss, is reeling into madness, sitting on the sand in Miami Beach. (Can anyone tell what street he’s on? Is that the Carillon Hotel, at 68th and Collins, in the background?).
Versace, played by former Venezuelan soap actor Edgar Ramirez, is in his Mediterranean-style mansion on 11th and Ocean Drive. Opera music plays to his morning routine. (Note: Versace is seen taking medication from a cabinet. But for what?)
But a bit of artistic license has been taken in the final seconds of the murder. For those in South Florida who followed the July 15, 1997, Versace murder, they might recall that Versace was ambushed from behind, shot in the back of the head twice at his black iron gate by the spree killer. He never knew what hit him. Or did he?
In the American Crime Story version, killer and victim look into each other's eyes. Versace has a horrifying second to realize he’s about to die. He utters one word, “No.” Shots ring out. Versace is hit. A white pigeon falls dead next to him, sparking false rumors that the murder was a Mafia hit.
VIDEO: WATCH TRAILER OF THE 'Assassination of Gianni Versace'
Versace’s lover, Antonio, played by Ricky Martin, runs out to the dying Versace. One of Versace’s employees gives chase to Cunanan, but stops when the killer points a gun at him. Cunanan runs away through Miami Beach alleyways. He goes back to a city garage where he parked the red pickup stolen from another up north. All true.
South Florida would be in a panic for the next two weeks until Cunanan was found. The city was overrun by reporters from across the country and the world. Versace became more famous than ever. And the FBI’s and Miami Beach’s response to the murder would come under harsh scrutiny, a study of missed opportunities to catch Cunanan before he reached Versace. One incident involved Cunanan using his real name and hotel address to pawn a coin he took from one of his victims.
To its credit, “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” explores some aspects of the murder overshadowed at the time. Mainly, homophobia. Why did the FBI not pay serious attention to the openly gay Cunanan as he killed four other men across the country, both friends and strangers? Was it because they dismissed it as simply gay-on-gay violence?
And once they knew he was headed South, why didn’t the FBI distribute wanted posters of Cunanan in South Florida, where he hid, rented a cheap hotel room and went to gay bars undetected before killing Versace?
After the “assassination,” the show flashes back to California in search of an answer to the central question that baffled police: Did Versace and Cunanan know each other? The series, based on Maureen Orth’s book, “Vulgar Favors,” claims they did meet years before and may have had an interlude — one that meant everything to social climber Cunanan, but little to Versace.
Then it flashes back to Miami and the aftermath of the murder. Donatella Versace, played by Penélope Cruz, arrives in Miami Beach, and the blaming begins for the death of her “genius” brother.
Donatella fiercely sets out to protect her brother’s reputation, hide his sexual escapades and keep family secrets from Miami Beach lead detective, the late Paul Scrimshaw. She also begins to try to save the brand name. She lashes out at Antonio, who had been with her brother for 15 years.
“The only thing you were supposed to do was take care of him, and you couldn’t even do that,” she tells Antonio, whose white tennis outfit is covered with Versace’s blood.
Let us know what you thought of Episode 1.
We’ll recap Episode 2 next Wednesday.