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Review: Truth and lies are the focus of ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace’

Maybe Jack Nicholson was wrong. We can handle the truth.

The #MeToo movement is giving a microphone to once unheard voices. Political lies are constantly challenged. At the Golden Globes, Oprahís rousing speech asserted "the most powerful tool is speaking your truth."

But Ryan Murphyís second installment of American Crime Story shows the dangerous difference between the absolute truth and "your truth."

Gianni Versaceís 1997 murder didnít culturally resonate like the O.J. Simpson case, the subject of the showís first installment. Ultimately, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story doesnít have as much story to tell. Instead, itís portrait of a killer during 1990s homophobia, told through a modern lens.

The FX series is based on Maureen Orthís book Vulgar Favors, which focused not only on the Italian fashion designerís murder on the steps of his Miami Beach home but also the FBIís botched investigation of Andrew Cunanan, a gay serial killer. It isnít an authorized biography of either party. In fact, the Versace family has widely denounced the show and book.

Penelope Cruz, who plays Versaceís sister and muse, Donatella, and Ricky Martin as his partner, Antonio DíAmico, both give award-worthy performances. And Edgar RamŪrez brings a warm, poetic soul to Versace. Itís really a shame that theyíre all sidelined by Darren Crissís phenomenal character development as Cunanan.

The 27-year-old killed four other men before aiming the gun at his most famous target and then himself. At first, his motivations are unclear, the victims somewhat unknown. Here the show takes a page out of Murphyís American Horror Story. The gruesome murders ó seductively scored and shot ó are senseless.

Eight of the nine episodes provided to critics unfold the story in reverse, beginning with Versaceís murder and ending with Cunananís childhood. Additional flashbacks further confuse the timeline, especially when youíre not binging in one sitting. However, itís an effective way to shift focus onto the victims and ultimately Cunananís destructive descent.

Criss is fully committed to this role and proves heís graduated from his Glee years, showing off Cunananís strutting confidence and loathsome eyes. Heís a con-man swiftly moving from calm to manic. Slowly, Cunananís carefully cultivated persona is exposed.

"Every time I feel like Iím getting close to you, you say youíre someone else," pleads Cunananís college friend in the first episode.

Cunanan first kills his friend Jeff Trail (Finn Wittrock), a retired Naval officer living in Minneapolis with Cunananís obsession and next victim, David Madson (Cody Fern). As the two gay men try to live openly, providing insight into gay identity, Cunanan basks in his own alternate reality. Heís gay; heís straight. He comes from a wealthy New York family. Heís working for Versace, designing costumes for operas. He manipulates every situation, believing heís giving others the reality they want.

In contrast, the series weaves in Versaceís past, despite the two leads sharing little screen time. After surviving a health scare, he chose to publicly come out in 1995, despite Donatellaís reservations that it could ruin the family company. Versace had passion, talent and fame; but he also had support from the people he surrounded himself with.

Fearing loneliness and abandonment, and yearning for love and adoration, Cunanan ended the lives of the people closest to him and someone who got in the way. And one life he could never have.

The show urges reflecting on sincerity and how everyone occasionally warps reality. Homophobia still exists; #fakenews is constantly thrown around in haste. Speaking any truth can have good or ill intentions, for oneself or for others. Ultimately, the perils of truth affect both sides.

The docudrama is based on a real 20-year-old crime, and it might not be entirely accurate. As Cunanan liked to bend pieces of the truth to entertain and impress his audience, Versace does the same.

Contact Brittany Volk at [email protected] Follow @bevolk.

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