Tom Rob Smith, who created the excellent series “London Spy,” channels Orth’s style and knack for detail into the script, particularly taking to heart Orth’s summation of Cunanan’s story as “a singular study in promise crushed.”
“The Assassination of Gianni Versace” seems to pore over every inch of that study in tandem, somewhat, with the designer’s biography and how those who loved him fell into conflict and struggled in the aftermath of his death to take the reins of what he had built. But the tale can be more accurately thought of as a crime story told in reverse, working its way backward to the beginning of two lives, one destined for great renown and the other careening toward infamy.
Cunanan gunned down Versace in broad daylight on the front steps of his South Beach villa in 1997. Murphy, who directed the first episode, captures the designer’s savage murder before the title card appears.
Like the series itself, the homicide is presented as an unexpected interruption of calm; the camera tracks Versace (Oscar Ramirez) in his final moments engaging in ordinary acts — awakening, eating breakfast served to him by impeccably clad servants — in an extraordinary fashion.
Through Ramirez’s embodiment of the designer’s quiet sensitivity, Versace becomes a living work of assured serenity. Cunanan (Darren Criss) is his opposite, a dazed young man in a t-shirt and shorts at the beach, contemplating the pistol he’s holding. Soon he’s screaming at the rolling waves.
Versace was the final victim in a string of murders Cunanan committed in a cross-country spree, taking the lives of former friends and strangers alike. But the fashion icon’s place in history was assured long before his death and far less defined by it than, say, O.J. Simpson’s association with his crime.