March 31, 2023 / AppleTV+
Starring: Taron Egerton, Toby Jones, Mezi Atwood Anthony Boyle, Ben Miles, Matthew Marsh, Greg Kolpakchi, Moyo Akandé, Rick Yune
Directed By: Jon S. Baird
Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) discovers TETRIS in 1988, and then risks everything by traveling to the Soviet Union, where he joins forces with the original inventor Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov) to bring the iconic video game to the masses. Based on a true story.
Written By Darren
Rating 5 out of 5
Tetris is a magnificent, exhilarating Cold War thriller mashed up with the unbelievable true story of the origins of one of the most popular video games of all time, headlined by an incredible performance from Taron Egerton, making it not only a perfect high score leader for the video game genre, but the best and first perfect film of 2023!
True story films and biopics are incredibly popular these days, with the majority of films in the genre being focused on musicians, incredible inventions and their inventors, or news stories that made headlines worldwide. Yes, these films do have some shocking elements to their story, but none of them are anything that I would ever describe as far-fetched as we have seen them play out live. Tetris, on the other hand, is a story that you will not believe nor could even fathom ever having happened until you see it unfold in front of your eyes. Part political thriller, part classic spy thriller, and wildly entertaining from start to finish, director Jon S. Baird and writer Noah Pink have crafted a film unlike anything you have ever experienced, resulting in a nail biting cinematic experience that you won’t soon forget.
Set in 1988 as communism is on the decline in the Soviet Union, the film follows Dutch video game designer and entrepreneur Henk Rogers. After failing to launch his latest video game into fame, Rogers discovers a new game at a convention: Tetris. Instantly, Rogers is entranced by the game and sees massive potential for it. The only wrinkle is that the game itself is created by a Soviet game designer, meaning that any rights to the games have to be licensed out by the Soviet government. In a hope to bring this game to the world, Rogers travels to the Soviet Union on a tourist visa, trying to gain an audience with the Soviet government to negotiate for the rights for Tetirs, but quickly finds himself in the middle of an intellectual property rights battle with massive corporations, shady businessmen, and corrupt Soviet officials that could kill him if he is not careful.
From a historical context, the story takes place at a fascinating time in history. It takes place as the communist reign in the Soviet Union is beginning to weaken as Western ideas of consumerism and capitalism permeate the Iron Curtain. At the same time, the video game industry is ready to evolve to the next level as Nintendo is about to unveil a gaming device that will change the course of history forever: the Game Boy. All of this creates the perfect backdrop for the story and makes an interesting watch for any history aficionados, and while the film is about intellectual property rights, the film itself is anything but dry. Full off back door deals, bribes, political maneuvering and deadly tactics of the Soviets that occurred trying to license out the rights to Tetris, it is frankly astounding this all occurred because of a video game, all which helps to build this larger than life story for the film. No disrespect to Tetirs by any means, as it is one of my all time favourite video games and one that I have spent hours playing, but you never expect this story to be about the origins of a video game.
Capturing all these larger than life elements is Pink’s screenplay, which balances the comedy of the story while crafting a Cold War espionage thriller full of suspense, political maneuvering and paranoia. It’s a throwback to the classic spy stories of Ian Fleming, slowly building the tension over the film’s two hour runtime to a nail biting final act that plays out like a James Bond film. At the same time, Rogers’s character is wonderfully developed, creating a truly noble man trying to do the right thing despite being in way over his head. He becomes the audience’s conduit into this wild story, and while we all know that the rights to Tetris were obtained, you will anxiously be watching hoping that Rogers will make it out of the Soviet Union alive.
There is no doubt one of the most exciting young actors in Hollywood right now is Taron Egerton, who has crafted a resume of excellent performances across multiple genres, and his performance as Henk Rogers is another great addition. Egerton has the bubbly energy to bring to life this passionate entrepreneur, determined on bringing this wonderful game to the world. He captures Rogers’s passion for video games in the scenes where he bonds with game designer Alexey Pajitnov as he tries to create the best game possible, while also bringing a keen business sense to the negotiation sequences. But, it is the heart that Egerton brings to the character that makes Rogers the hero of his own story, as we watch this man try to do the right thing while supporting his family. Within a matter of minutes on screen, Egerton tells you everything you need to know about Rogers as an individual and his personal story with his performance, instantly bonding the audience to Rogers and helps to build the stakes once Rogers finds himself ensnared in the Soviet trap. From start to finish, Egerton is brilliant and injects the film with an infectious, lively energy that brings some humanity to this story full of calculating and cold characters.
The supporting characters of the film are interesting to say the least, providing a wide range of personalities that make this one wildly entertaining film. Nikita Efremov is delightful as Alexey Pajitnov, the creator of Tetris, and he forms a great on screen friendship with Egerton in a small amount of time. Toby Jones has a weasley role as Robert Stein, which is no stretch for him having portrayed similar characters before. Roger Allam is great as business mogul Robert Maxwell, reveling in his character’s charming yet cutthroat nature. Though for me, the standout of the supporting cast was Anthony Boyle as Kevin Maxwell, the incompetent and sniveling son sent to the Soviet Union by his father to win the rights for Tetris. Clearly out of his league and ignorant as to how business is truly done, Boyle perfectly embodies this with an arrogance that makes his character a great adversary for Egerton’s Rogers fighting for the rights to Tetris.
From a design point of view, the film is great. The sets capture the cold and rundown nature of the Soviet Union, while a rocking soundtrack of 80s hits, some using Russian language versions, truly rounds out the aesthetics of the film. But it is the ingenious use of 8-bit transitions between chapters, or as the film calls them “levels”, that makes this feel like a proper video game film. Though it is the use of CGI during the final act’s thrilling chase sequence to turn the real world objects into Tetris blocks while “Holding Out For a Hero” blasts through the speakers which is the best creative decision of the entire film, making for one excellent sequence!
I have yet to see a film this year that has been perfect across the board, and while I had high hopes for Tetris, it surpassed every expectation and is the first film to get a perfect rating from me this year. Taron Egerton is outstanding as always, but it is the thrilling and unbelievable true story that makes Tetris my favourite film of the year so far. Mixing video games with a historical thriller evoking elements of some of the best spy thrillers, all the pieces fall together in Tetris, racking up a true high score for video game films and AppleTV+ with a truly brilliant film that you cannot miss!