March 31st, 2023
STARRING: TARON EGERTON, NIKITA EFREMOV, TOBY JONES, ROGER ALLAM
DIRECTED BY: JON S. BAIRD
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
I always wondered why the Kremlin was on the opening screen for Tetris. Thanks to Jon S. Baird’s film, now I know why, and then some. The story of how the popular 1980s & 90s video game came to be was something I didn’t know anything about, but it’s more than just a moment of ingenuity, and actually a story of great risk for reward. Tetris is part thrilling and engaging, focused on the battle for global rights ownership for the game that would have gamers flipping blocks for their own entertainment. How little we knew what it took to make that possible.
The main focus of the story is a man by the name of Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton). He looks a bit like Ned Flanders from The Simpsons but has the determination of a bull. Originally a video game inventor, he discovered Tetris at a Tokyo game convention and was able to get the rights for Tetris in Japan. Problem, however, is that he didn’t have the rights anywhere else. This introduces us to the many players involved, including Robert Stein (Toby Jones) who bought the rights from inventor Russian Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov), and who ultimately sold the rights to media mogul Robert Maxwell (Roger Allam). Along with his whiny son Kevin (Anthony Boyle), the Maxwell’s tried to bully their way into owning everything that had to do with Tetris. They didn’t account for a persistent Henk Rogers.
From a story perspective, Tetris hits a lot of positive notes, from the family aspect of one man striving to provide, the sacrifices his loved ones make for his dream, and a shocking espionage factor I wasn’t expecting. Writer Noah Pink understands how to keep the energy going and it works with a story this rare. It’s a mix of human ingenuity, a battle of greed vs. humility, and a story worthy of telling. With the help of hindsight, it’s easy to see why Henk and the rest of the competitors were so hellbent on Tetris, as it’s still played today. It’s also guided by fun techno-synth music and old-video game style animation that will tickle the nostalgia of all old Nintendo games.
The minor problems of Tetris arise in the narrative’s often lengthy process, which can feel like two many characters, and moving pieces trying to tell a full story. The relationship between Rogers and inventor Pajitnov can feel tacked on but it also pushes aside the family struggles that arrive with Henk’s wife Akemi (Ayane Nagabuchi) which receives even less attention. What helps squash any narrative problems arrives in the commanding performance by Egerton and a thrilling story that surprises around every narrative turn.
What ultimately won me over with Tetris was its inspiring spirit. These are the kind of biopics I am all for seeing and a story where the greedy don’t get their way. There was a genuine kindness and need from Rogers to share Tetris with the rest of the world. He had to jump through a lot of hoops and even risk his own life. Whatever he had to do, it was all worth it, as Tetris is still one of the coolest video games around. This Tetris has all the blocks in the right place.
TETRIS IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS AND ON APPLETV+ FRIDAY MARCH 31ST, 2023.
Written by: Leo Brady