What a blast from the past! Though I’m not much of a gamer even in my youth, I certainly remember the popularity of TETRIS. My hubby is an avid fan of the game, even his mom was obsessed with it for a time and would spend hours laying on her back playing it on Gameboy. I had no knowledge at all about the game’s origin story–who invented it, how it got to be popular, etc. Normally I wouldn’t be so enthused about how a video game comes into being, but the trailer and the casting of Taron Egerton had me hooked immediately.
Egerton plays Henk Rogers, the Dutch-born (part Indonesian) founder of Bullet-Proof Software (now called Blue Planet Software) who stumbled upon Tetris at a Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in the late 80s. He tells his Japanese wife (Ayane Nagabuchi) about its amazing potential given its addictive nature. His young kids at the time got hooked on it when he brought the game home. Henk is determined to secure the rights so he can bring the game to the masses through a partnership with Nintendo. It certainly took a visionary to see a product’s potential reach and popularity, and he would take no for an answer from his doubtful banker (Rick Yune).
Henk can come across as reckless even though he strives to balance both his business and family life. There’s no doubt in his mind that the success of Tetris would secure his financial future for his family. Refusing to wait weeks for a business visa to Russia, he goes to Moscow on a tourist visa instead. Henk seeks out the game’s creator Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov) but of course, in a socialist regime, everything is owned by the government. As if dealing with Russian bureaucrats and spooky KGB agents isn’t tricky enough already, he has to also deal with competing software companies, Andromeda Software and Mirrorsoft, owned by the notorious media tycoon Robert Maxwell.
Under less capable hands, this could’ve been a run-of-the-mill, even tedious drama, but BAFTA-winning Scottish director Jon S. Baird (Stan & Ollie) created a rousing and often hilarious fast-paced thriller. The movie is largely shot in Aberdeen and Glasgow which sub for Moscow. The script by Noah Pink is full of energy matched by Egerton’s feverishly enthusiastic performance. This is a more amusing, animated, and whimsical version of The Social Network.
The espionage aspect during the Cold War with the Soviet Union is made all the more intriguing given our current political climate and ongoing tension with Russia. A lot of the legal battles happen in Moscow, specifically inside Elorg, a state-owned organization that monopolizes all the software & hardware import/export. Some of the negotiation scenes seem farcical at times but yet they don’t diminish the level of suspense. If you were to compare it to a Bond movie though, it’s more 80s’ Roger Moore-era James Bond than the grittier Daniel Craig version.
Welsh actor Taron Egerton, one of the most charismatic and versatile actors working today, is a lot of fun to watch as the protagonist. Henk’s rapport with the quiet, reflective Alexey feels natural despite their contrasting personality. The fact that they both have a family and they’re risking everything for Tetris deepens their bond. Reliable character actor Toby Jones has a small but memorable role as Robert Stein, while Roger Allam is unrecognizable in a fat suit as Robert Maxwell who constantly undermines his ambitious, nepotism-baby Kevin (Anthony Boyle). No wink-wink, nod-nod reference at all to the disgraced Ghislaine Maxwell, apparently Robert’s favorite daughter.
I may not follow all the corporate legalism and the nitty gritty of International software licensing, but I get the gist of just what is at stake for the key characters. Henk and Alexey are the heart and soul of the movie and the tale of unlikely friendship isn’t lost in this cat-and-mouse pursuit. The finale is such an adrenaline rush even though a quick check on Wikipedia would tell you the outcome. I love the homage to the game itself in this movie, the filmmakers incorporate the tetromino geometric shapes and catchy tune throughout. The spirited 80s-inspired score by Lorne Balfe upped the nostalgia level. My hubby and I especially love The Final Countdown song by EUROPE so we both cheered when that song came on.
TETRIS has become one of the most fun and satisfying movies of the year so far. I enjoyed it immensely from start to finish, it’s definitely something that I don’t mind watching again.
Tetris will hit Apple TV+ on March 31, 2023
11 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: TETRIS (2023) – a rousing cat-and-mouse ride packed with 80s nostalgia”
Yeah, I want to see this. It looks like fun. Plus, I fucking love Tetris.
If you love TETRIS you’ll have a blast with this one!
I saw the trailer of this movie on Apple TV+ a while back, while it didn’t peak my interest, I’ll put it on my to watch list base on your high praise review. I’m not much of a gamer either but I remember playing Tetris back in the days.
It’s a lot of fun, Ted! Definitely well with a watch.
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