Movie Review: ‘Tetris’

Greetings again from the darkness. Were you one of those? Did you spend hours strategically placing ‘tetrominoes’ on the Gameboy screen for maximum points? Were you addicted to Tetris, one of the earliest globally popular video games? As one of the few people alive today who has never once played Tetris, I was still interested enough in its origin story to watch and review the film from director Jon S Baird (STAN & OLLIE 2018, and FILTH 2013) and screenwriter Noah Pink (creator of the “Genius” TV series).

Taron Edgerton (ROCKET MAN 2019, EDDIE THE EAGLE 2015, the KINGSMEN movies) stars as Henk Rogers, who, when we first see him, is pushing the floundering video game he designed himself. It’s at a 1988 conference where he stumbles on an early version of Tetris, and the rest of the movie involves Henk trying to outmaneuver Russians, hucksters, and corrupt businesspeople – each more powerful than him – for the territorial rights to market Tetris, a surefire hit in the early days of video games.

At times, the story plays like a spy thriller, but mostly it’s a story of Communism vs Capitalism, with greed playing a significant role with all involved. One wouldn’t expect foreign intrigue and geopolitical business strategy to facilitate video game distribution, yet in fact, those elements are front and center. Henk’s’ journey finds him crossing paths with Robert Stein (Toby Jones), an international video game agent; renowned publisher and politician Robert Maxwell (an unrecognizable, except for that distinctive voice, Roger Allam) and his arrogant wannabe-power broker son, Kevin (Anthony Boyle); Hiroshi Yamauchi (Togo Igawa), the head of Nintendo; and most importantly (and stressfully), the Russians. If you don’t recognize the name Robert Maxwell, you surely know the story of his daughter, Ghislaine.

Alexey Pajitnov (played by Nikita Efremov) is the Russian computer programmer who initially developed Tetris, and of course, he is the one in danger when the game becomes embroiled in a tug-of-war between Russia and Westerners. Belikov (Oleg Stefan) negotiates on behalf of the Russian government, while Tracy (newcomer Mara Huff) acts as Henk’s translator. But, of course, in Russia, not everything is as it seems, so Henk and the Maxwells and Stein all act in ways not acceptable to Russian protocol. It’s Henk who has literally bet his house on Tetris, but Maxwell’s highly publicized shady business dealings are a factor as well.

At times, the film has a cartoonish feel to it … some of that by (8-bit) design, and some of it just in how the story is presented. Those involved have admitted they were following in the footsteps of THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010), a superior film. Ego and greed are always a bit uncomfortable to watch play out, but we do learn that the name Tetris was formed by blending ‘tetra’ (four) with ‘tennis.’

AppleTV+ on March 31, 2023

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