Friday, December 16, 2022

Stream It Or Skip It?

Unfortunately, Andrew Cunanan’s name will be forever linked with that of Gianni Versace. Cunanan murdered the fashion designer in 1997, but before he did, he was also responsible for killing four other people across the country. In the investigative news show True Crime: The Search For The Versace Killer on Hulu, we hear from the investigators who chased Cunanan as he made his way from Chicago to Miami in search of his most famous victim.

Opening Shot: “When you start doing evil, it’s like a slippery slope,” Dr. Robert Zagar, a forensic psychologist says in the opening moments of the news special. From there we’re introduced to a montage of the trail of death that Andrew Cunanan left behind in 1997.

The Gist: Most people familiar with the murder of Gianni Versace remember that Andrew Cunanan was the man responsible. While Versace was the most famous person Cunanan killed in the spring of 1997, he wasn’t the only one. This investigative news program on Hulu speaks to investigators and psychologists familiar with Cunanan’s crimes to explain the timeline of his murder spree and the motives behind it.

The special, which is just under a half-hour, feels almost like a prologue to something longer, the pace of the footage and interviews feels fast and the program never spends too long on the details of any one of Cunanan’s victims. Instead, we just get the facts of where Cunanan was at certain times, who he was with, and where he headed to next. After killing his first two victims, Jeff Trail and David Madson, in Minneapolis in April of 1997, Cunanan went to Chicago where he killed a real estate developer named Lee Miglin. He then stole Miglin’s car, ending up in New Jersey where he killed William Reese, a cemetery groundskeeper, whose car he also stole and then drove to Miami where he hid out before he shot and killed fashion designer Gianni Versace in July, 1997.

Through the eyes of investigative reporter Chuck Goudie, the special then recounts the days after Versace’s death amid the manhunt for Cunanan, until his death by suicide. Goudie appears both in present day and in footage from his investigation in 1997, explaining his role in the search for Cunanan (though he did discover certain items belonging to Cunanan, he did not actually help locate Cunanan himself). Cunanan’s body was later found on a houseboat he was squatting in, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound eight days after Versace’s murder.

Photo: Gillikin, Mallory A. (WLS-TV)

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Ryan Murphy’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story is obviously a much longer, dramatized account of the events that are discussed in this special, but the documentary is a helpful companion piece to the series to understand the real chronology of events and some of the players in this tragic story.

Our Take: On paper this special is simply an account of all of the murders that Andrew Cunanan is responsible for, and while there’s nothing wrong with that on the surface, something feels off about it. There’s a strange tone, an occasional lack of objectivity, to the talking heads who appear here at times, the way they discuss some of the details of the case are just, I don’t know, too casual for expert witnesses. “Thank goodness for us that he did himself in,” the forensic psychologist, Dr. Robert Zagar says when discussing Cunanan’s suicide, which strikes a strange note, even when discussing the death of a killer.

Most of the commentary is from a man named Chuck Goudie, who was an investigative reporter working on the Cunanan story in 1997, and who says that his own search for clues into the crimes led to him becoming a part of the FBI’s own investigation. “I ended up not only being in the middle of the crime scene and finding things that federal agents should have found but didn’t… so it definitely became a personal story,” Goudie says at one point. And while journalists often find themselves in the middle of stories they report, Goudie seems self-congratulatory at times as he points out how he did a better job than the FBI in discovering important clues about Cunanan’s movements.

While the special presents the facts clearly and concisely, there’s little more to it than that.

Sex and Skin: A few shots of photos from men’s magazines appear, but not much else.

Parting Shot: “Andrew Cunanan absolutely wanted to be famous. He wanted to be remembered for something,” Goudie states as the end credits roll, but he rightly points out that the people we should actually be honoring and remembering more than the killer are his victims, whose faces appear on screen.

Sleeper Star: While the special is dominated by investigative reporter Chuck Goudie, I’m more fascinated by Dr. Zagar, whose commentary is occasionally insightful and sometimes just confusing.

Most Pilot-y Line: “Everywhere that Andrew Cunanan has gone in the past week, it seems like a body turns up.”

Our Call: SKIP IT! Though this special offers a solid Cliff’s Notes version of Cunanan’s killing spree, it doesn’t offer much more than you would learn by reading the killer’s Wikipedia page. It’s simply a collection of facts, starting with the death of Jeff Trail and ending with Cunanan’s own suicide, that present a helpful timeline of his destruction, without enough insight or detail to make it resonate.

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