Starring Taron Egerton, Nikita Efremov, Sofia Lebedeva, Toby Jones, Oleg Stefan, and Ayane Nagabuchi
The last place you would expect to find the first good film of 2023 would be a film about the origins of Tetris, the video game. Nor would you expect such a battle of commerce between Russia, the UK, America, and even Japan to be playing behind the scenes of blocks dropping on a screen. Noah Pink’s script is a lot of things. It’s exciting, snappy, and full of wit and information, but more than that, he cracked the code to make this story entertaining. What does a film about Tetris look like? The closest answer would be “The Social Network” meets “Argo,” or at least that’s how director Jon S. Baird has creatively framed the story. Instead of acts, we have levels. Instead of characters, there are players. From how locations are displayed to scene transitions, the level of creativity wonderfully supplements the narrative.
Failed video game designer Henk Rogers (Egerton) discovers Tetris at a Las Vegas trade show in 1988. He sees a future with lots of dollar signs. Immediately he sought licensing rights for his little video game company in Tokyo to bring Tetris to the world. Home Video game consoles are in the early stages, arcades are still big money makers, and handhelds haven’t been invented yet. Rogers discovers the dude who created Tetris, Russian programmer Alexey Pajitnov (Efremov). The Soviet Union didn’t want anything produced in the motherland to get outside its borders. The UK wants Tetris, Nintendo wants it, and everyone is fighting over the rights to the game. Still, Rogers intends to win the deal with something most business people never try, honesty.
Egerton finds the perfect balance in his performance of playing the serious-minded Rogers in a way that keeps this highly entertaining.
Rogers describes Tetris as the perfect game, describing it as poetic art, all wrapped up in math. For such a simple game, the history of Tetris is a wild ride that involves violence, car chases, scheming, and so much more. The filmmakers understand how silly all this is; a few characters even say, “It’s just a game,” but in the late 80s, it was multi-million-dollar revenue up for grabs. Rogers is a Danish-born businessman who studied in Hawaii, lived in Japan, and spent most of his life wrapped up in the Tetris deal. Egerton finds the perfect balance in his performance of playing the serious-minded Rogers in a way that keeps this highly entertaining.
It’s a rare experience to find a film telling a story you haven’t heard before, doing that in a creative way that’s uniformly entertaining and informative. Finding a true story about the corporate business world that highlights integrity is also scarce. Working through all the “players” and understanding who has/wants what in the first “level” is better for the film to explain later. It makes more sense the deeper into the story you go. “Tetris” is a fun experience that will leave a smile on your face by the end credits—a breath of fresh air from the redundancy of sequels that have plagued 2023 so far.
Tetris is a rare film that checks all the right boxes, entertaining, thrilling, creative and informative.