Tetris (2023) ☆☆☆(3/4): A business competition at the end of the Cold War

“Tetris”, which was released on Apple TV+ at the end of last month, gives us a fun mix of comedy and thriller which is incidentally based on a real-life story about one of the most popular video games in the late 1980s. I have no idea on how close it is actually to that real-life story, but I must admit that I enjoyed it even while clearly recognizing many embellished aspects here and there throughout the story.

The center of the story is Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton), a Dutch game developer of Indonesian/Jewish descent who saw the considerable commercial potential of a seemingly insignificant video game imported from the Soviet Union when he came across it at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 1988. That video game was none other than, yes, Tetris, and, as shown in the film, he had to deal with a number of obstacles before succeeding in his ambitious business plan on Tetris.

The early part of the film succinctly establishes a very complicated business situation surrounding Tetris. At first, it seems that all Rogers has to do is getting a bank loan and then acquiring the license for producing and then selling Tetris in Japan via his partnership with Nintendo, but, alas, the circumstance turns out to be quite messy to say the least. Mirrorsoft, a British video game company represented by Kevin Maxwell (Anthony Boyle) and his father Robert (Roger Allam), acquired the right the worldwide licensing rights of Tetris via their associate Robert Stein (Toby Jones), but both Stein and Mirrorsoft made some glaring mistakes in handling this business deal, and this certainly annoys and frustrates Rogers a lot.

Even though you cannot understand everything in the rather confusing buisness situation surrounding Rogers, the screenplay by Noah Pink cheerfully bounces from one point to another with enough humor and wit, and the movie steadily holds our attention via its vibrant period mood and details of the late 1980s. For example, it frequently uses that simple graphic texture of 8-bit video games for bringing more style and excitment to the story in addition to generating some nostalgia for us, and you will certainly smile especially if you spent a lot of time on those 8-bit video games during your childhood years.

I must confess that I preferred books and movies over video games even during my early years, but I did spend some time on Tetris and other video games when I was not reading a book or watching a movie, and the movie certainly reminds me again of how Tetris was so addictive despite its very simple setting. Sure, this is basically a puzzle game on elementary level, but you can easily learn how to play it within a short time, and it surely challenges and then excites you as getting faster and faster with those colored blocks relentlessly falling from the top of the screen.

Just like Tetris itself, the movie becomes more tense and brisker as Rogers comes upon more challenges along his bumpy quest toward obtaining the worldwide licensing rights of Tetris. Despite the considerable risk he will have to face in one way or another, he decides to go to Moscow for persuading a government company to make a deal with him and Nintendo, and he soon comes to realize how risky his situation can really be. As his main opponents, both Mirrorsoft and Stein are ready to get worldwide licensing rights of Tetris by any means necessary, and the situation becomes all the more serious as KGB enters the picture later in the story.

Although we all know how the story will end, the movie ably maintains its narrative momentum even as Rogers and several other main characters busily make one move after another in their business competition. Although the Cold War is nearly being over, Rogers still must be very careful at each step due to the interventions from a certain greedy KGB officer associated with Mirrorsoft, and Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov), a Russian computer engineer who developed Tetris, and his family go through a very hard time just because he tries to help Rogers a bit.

During its last act, the movie naturally brings more dramatic embellishment into the story, but you will not probably mind that much as getting thrilled and entertained enough thanks to the good efforts from director Jon S. Baird and his crew members including editors Martin Walsh, Colin Goudie, and Ben Mills. We seldom feel lost even while lots of things happen here and there, and we come to pay more attention to what is being at stake for Rogers during the finale which seems to borrow a bit from the similar climax of “Argo” (2012).

In addition, the movie has another good performance from Taron Egerton, who has shown more talent and personality since his breakout turn in “Kingsman: The Secret Service” (2014). Although I must point out that he does not fit that well to his character’s ethnic background from the beginning, Egerton compensates for this flaw to some degrees with his ebullient acting, and he is also supported well by a number of competent performers including Toby Jones, Nikita Efremov, Anthony Boyle, Igor Grabuzov, Ben Miles, and Roger Allam.

On the whole, “Tetris” is an enjoyable product thanks to its competent direction and a number of good performances, and it will surely make a nice double feature show with “Air” (2023), another recent film about a significant real-life business deal in the 1980s. Although it is less impressive than “Air” in several aspects, the movie has its own entertaining qualities nonetheless, and that is enough for recommendation in my inconsequential opinion.

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