Directed by: Jon S. Baird
Premise: Based on true events. In the waning days of the Soviet Union, a Russian computer programmer (Nikita Efremov) invents the video game Tetris. Businessman Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) tries to secure the rights to the game for Nintendo and must outwit competitors and KGB agents.
What Works: Tetris dramatizes a business deal in which Henk Rogers finagled the rights to the popular game which was the intellectual property of the Soviet Union. Rogers’ dogged pursuit of the rights put him in competition with Mirrorsoft CEO Robert Maxwell (Roger Allam) and Andromeda Software owner Robert Stein (Toby Jones). The actual custody of the rights is more than a little opaque due to Russian government interference and the unscrupulous business practices of Maxwell and Stein. Out of that conflict emerges an interesting theme. Tetris is an underdog story of a guy battling government red tape and deciphering the lies of his competitors. The film is certainly a capitalistic piece but it’s more than just an advertisement for a corporate brand in the way of Air or Saving Mr. Banks. Tetris juxtaposes the best of capitalism—ingenuity and fair competition—against cronyism. The film implicitly makes a case for an ethical capitalism that is embodied by Rogers. He’s the only one being honest and his persistent candor eventually wins over Soviet officials who are just trying to do right by their own country while putting Rogers in the crosshairs of a corrupt KGB agent seeking a lucrative kickback. Tetris successfully dramatizes the best of the capitalistic spirit but in a way that feels earnest and ennobles an idealization of free enterprise and innovation. That ethical distinction and Rogers’ personal financial stake in the deal raises the tension and Tetris is at times quite tense and smart.
What Doesn’t: As is often the case in historical dramas, some aspects of Tetris have been exaggerated or invented. The core of the story is true enough but the subplot of corrupt KGB agents inserting themselves into the negotiations is fictional invention. This is excusable because the subplot escalates the drama and enhances the film’s themes but the end of the movie is very Hollywood. Tetris also includes a domestic storyline in which Rogers struggles to balance his work and homelife. This is a cliché feature of business stories and the filmmakers don’t do anything innovative with it. Tetris recreates Soviet-era Russia including some wide shots of Moscow. These effects are not convincing. The images are obviously computer generated and look quite fake. The moviemakers also insert some 8-bit effects, simulating 1980s video games. This works in the scene transitions but for some reason the effect is applied to the climactic car chase in a way that doesn’t make stylistic sense.
Disc extras: Available on AppleTV.
Bottom Line: Tetris is a fun business drama. The intricate legal conflict is matched by likable characters and involving dramatic stakes. The filmmakers take significant liberties with the facts but the film also has a bit more going on than just a business deal.
Episode: #948 (May 14, 2023)