In 1978, low-level mob associate Jimmy Burke (Donald Sutherland) is released after serving a six years in prison. As soon as he arrives home, he discovers that his son, Frank (Jamie Harris), has failed to keep up with the family business and that the Burke Crew is close to becoming a joke. Looking for a big score, Jimmy masterminds a robbery at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The so-called Lufthansa Heist becomes the largest cash robbery committed on American soil at that time. Growing paranoid, Burke decides it would be easier to just kill all the members of his crew than to give them their cut of the robbery. What Burke doesn’t realize is that his closest associates are destined to be his downfall. Tommy DeSimone (Rocco Sisto) has offended John Gotti (Steven Randazzo) while Henry Hill (Nick Sandow) has become hooked on drugs and is considering turning informant.
If all this sounds familiar, that’s because part of this story was already told in Goodfellas. The Big Heist was made for TNT and, because it focuses exclusively on the robbery, it goes into far more detail than Martin Scorsese’s film. For instance, the character of Frank Burke was entirely left out of Goodfellas and it’s interesting to see how much more negatively Henry Hill is portrayed in The Big Heist. Since it’s told from the viewpoint of Jimmy Burke instead of Henry Hill, The Big Heist makes for an interesting companion piece to Goodfellas but, at the same time, it never escapes the shadow of the other film. With both movies employing voice over narration and frequent freeze frames, it’s impossible to watch The Big Heist without comparing it to Goodfellas. Since Goodfellas was made by Martin Scorsese and The Big Heist was made for TNT, the former comes out on top.
It’s also hard to watch Donald Sutherland as Jimmy Burke without comparing his performance to Robert De Niro’s Jimmy Conway. Though he never reaches the heights of De Niro’s performance, Sutherland is convincing as a sociopathic criminal mastermind. Less convincing are Rocco Sisto and Nick Sandow, who both struggle to make an impression in roles previously made famous by Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta.