REVIEW: ‘Tetris’ Has All The Right Pieces Fall Into Place

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Tetris — But Why Tho

Tetris has earned its reputation as one of the most influential video games of all time, but few know how it made it out of Soviet Russia. Enter Tetris, an Apple TV+ movie directed by Jon S. Baird and starring Taron Egerton as Henk Rogers and Toby Jones as Robert Stein, which shines a light on the lesser-known tale of how the well-loved game made it out to the rest of the world.

Tetris starts by presenting Rogers, a Dutch developer living in Japan, struggling to promote his own game at a convention. He’s not a winner, far from it. There is a scene where another game enamors the woman he hired to promote his game at the convention. That game? Tetris. A game invented in the Soviet Union and only barely starting to make its way to the outside world. Rogers is determined to bring Tetris to the world, no matter what obstacles get thrown his way.

Rogers is pitted against the Soviet government as well as competitors Robert Stein (Jones) and Robert (Roger Allam) and Kevin (Anthony Boyle) Maxwell. Choosing to give viewers villains to root against during Roger’s journey was an excellent choice that helped the story move along. Making a film about legal battles and distribution rights is no easy task. Still, Jon S. Baird and writer Noah Pink did a great job writing characters in a way that made even the most bureaucratic Soviet officials seem intriguing.

The thing about Tetris is that it isn’t really about the game as much as it’s about the relations between the Soviet Union towards the end of its existence and the Western world. The public in the Soviet Union is pushing for more freedom, which is only a few years away at the time the film takes place. While that change is beginning, Soviet officials are trying to set themselves up financially for a world where they no longer benefit from a corrupt system. There is a significant amount of talk of doing what is best for communism or best for the Soviet Union, but it’s clear that personal gain is the main driving force.

When it became clear the main story was really about corruption and the geopolitical battle between Soviet Russia and the West, I was expecting things to feel either politically preachy or downright dull. But I was pleasantly surprised, then, when the story continued to highlight the individuals involved in the process of bringing Tetris to the world. The backstabbing and under-the-table deals matter so much more when the characters behind them are as compelling as they are.

What also works in setting the competitive tone is the backdrops where the story takes place. It feels like a spy thriller, with dreary apartment complexes and secret dance clubs featured in some of the locations. Rogers isn’t welcome in Russia; visually, that unwelcoming feeling was palpable. The juxtaposition between Soviet scenes of concrete and bleakness and the brighter, happier scenes in places like Nintendo offices and Rogers’ home also helps show how harrowing the challenge was for Rogers.

The incredible performance by Egerton as Rogers really sells the story of Tetris. Egerton portrays the idea of a man who has fallen so deeply in love with a game and wants to share it with the rest of the world well. The other standout performance was Nikita Yefremov as Alexey Pajitnov, the inventor of Tetris. He perfectly portrays the skepticism and fear of a Soviet citizen caught up in troubles with the government, but the way he warms up to Rogers is played incredibly well over the course of the film. You can see his body language change, going from quiet and afraid to eventually opening up to Rogers over their shared appreciation of Tetris and video games in general.

There is a lot to love about Tetris, but the overarching struggle of turning a legal battle into an edge-of-your-seat drama is apparent throughout. The close to two-hour run time starts to feel slow by the midway point but thankfully picks up in the back half of the film. It’s certainly a slower burn, but the payoff is there. Unfortunately, it doesn’t leave time to explore how Tetris became so popular, only briefly mentioning circumstances that made it so beloved. Still, since that wasn’t the film’s main story, I understood why that did not get much screen time.

Tetris is a good movie; it just might not be what viewers expect. It isn’t a whimsical and uplifting film about a beloved video game. Instead, it tells an oft-overlooked story of how it overcame political forces to become arguably the most popular video game ever. Nevertheless, excellent performances and dramatic settings make Tetris an absolute must-watch if you are okay with a story that takes a while to pay off.

Tetris releases on Apple TV+ on March 31, 2023.

  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10


Tetris is an excellent slow burn that tells the dramatic tale of how the hit video game made it out of the Soviet Union to the rest of the world.

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