When you think of Tetris the video game, you hardly think of Cold War intrigue. Now, Tetris the film, on the other hand, has a healthy dose of that. Odd, right? Well, considering the time period where Tetris swept the world, it makes more sense. Now, the movie itself wants to be a fun romp in the video game business world, as well as a bit of a thriller with life or death stakes. Not all of it works, but enough does to warrant a recommendation.
Tetris has a very compelling first act, before developing a bit of an identity crisis. Luckily, the lead performance, as well as some fun touches, keep things from becoming too heavy. Whenever it threatens to become something it’s not, or to go past the point of no return, there’s a welcome course correction. It keeps the flick from becoming next level, but it does end up being something well worth seeing.
Businessman Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) is struggling to sell his own video game he comes across something spectacular at an expo. It’s addictive, simple, and a game literally anyone could not just play, but love. It’s Tetris, invented in the USSR by Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov). Eager to get the rights to this game that he rightly thinks is going to be a smash hit, Henk risks his business, much to the chagrin of his wife Akemi (Ayane Nagabuchi) to try and license the rights, which he can sell to Nintendo for a boatload.
Traveling to Moscow, Henk encounters stiff resistance. Everyone is distrusting of a Westerner, creating problem after problem. Along with a translator in Sasha (Sofya Lebedeva), he barges into the government office of ELORG where he plans to make an offer for Tetris. Alexey is not allowed to profit off of the game, but government official Valentin Trifonov (Igor Grabuzov) sure plans to. He has designs to make sure sketchy business mogul Robert Maxwell (Roger Allam) and his son Kevin Maxwell (Anthony Boyle) end up with the game, furthering a deal they’ve made with Robert Stein (Toby Jones). Oh, and a healthy bribe has been promised as well. As Henk deals with all of this, he befriends Alexey, becoming more and more determined not just to win the rights and save his company, but to get his friend the recognition he deserves.
Taron Egerton is having fun with this leading man and it really shows. A determined and persistent businessman, Henk never gives up, even when he probably should. Egerton allows him to be funny, hard-headed, and quite lovable. He makes it easy to root for Henk to succeed in the end. The rest of the cast doesn’t get to showcase nearly as much, but Nikita Efremov does fare the best of the bunch, since his character at least has some backstory. Roger Allam, Anthony Boyle, Igor Grabuzov, Toby Jones, Sofya Lebedeva, and Ayane Nagabuchi just don’t leave much of a mark. Other supporting players include Togo Igawa, Ben Miles, Rick Yune, and more.
Director Jon S. Baird and writer Noah Pink occasionally try to turn Tetris into a thriller, but the more it’s a light biographical drama with some mild comedy in it, the better things go. Pink’s script jumps around a bit more than it needs to, both structurally and tonally, but Baird simplifies it when most necessary. His direction also lightens the mood when needed, especially with a clever bit during a climactic third act sequence. Just when it might have gone too far into thriller territory, it gets gamified in a very enjoyable manner.
Tetris is the offbeat origin story you never knew you wanted. It’s not as addicting as the game, but it’s a solidly good time. If the move towards Cold War espionage and thriller is less compelling than the business of the game industry in the 80s, the mixture still works far more than it doesn’t. Regardless of whether you’re a gamer or not, this bit of historical fiction hits very nicely, particularly with the talents of Egerton.