A man sits in a dimly lit office next to an old computer. It's the '80s. He is moving tetriminoes around on a desk.

Film Review: Tetris

Film Reviews

Director: Jon S. Baird 

Marv Studios and AI Film
Streaming on Apple TV+: 03.31

If you’re experiencing a wave of ’80s nostalgia and Dungeons & Dragons just isn’t quite your thing, how about 8-bit video games and Cold War espionage? Fact-based thriller Tetris is a well-balanced mix of both popular pastimes in one story.

Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton, Kingsmen, Rocketman) is an enterprising programmer and aspiring entrepreneur looking for the next big thing. While at a trade show, Henk stumbles upon an addictive puzzle game, Tetris. It’s love at first sight for Henck, and the worldwide distribution rights are up for grabs. When Henck learns from friends at Nintendo that they are about to release a new handheld gaming system called Gameboy and are looking for the perfect game to sell it, he’s determined to bring Tetris to the masses. This means traveling to the Soviet Union, where a young inventor named Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov, Londongrad) is caught in a tug of war between his own communist government and Western capitalists who are all eager to control this potential cash cow. To win this game, Henck must outmaneuver unscrupulous players.

Tetris is hardly the innovative breakthrough for filmmaking that its namesake was for gaming, though it is an involving story about creative problem solving and refusing to give up. Director Baird (Stan & Ollie) cleverly makes up for budgetary limitations by using old-school, pixelated graphics for establishing shots and other scene-setting moments, and he builds tension nicely. Noah Pink’s screenplay is clearly the Hollywood version of this story, complete with car chases, double crosses and femme fatales. Tetris merely wants to entertain, not give a history lesson, and Lorne Bafe‘s endearing electronica score reminds us that this is all a game, and we are having a lot of fun. 

Edgerton is great at playing the relatable everyman, and Tetris owes a lot of its appeal to his likable presence. Espionage thrillers must have villains you can hiss at as much as heroes you can cheer for, however, and Baird taps into the necessary theatricality with two top London stage actors. Roger Allam, from the original West End cast of Les Misérables, chews the scenery while sporting heavy makeup as corrupt media mogul Robert Maxwell, and Anthony Boyle of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is terrific as his smarmy son, Kevin. Efremov’s humble Pajitnov, who just wants to keep him and his wife safe amid all of the scheming and political maneuvering, adds humanity and a sense of higher stakes that Tetris needs to get us invested in the ultimate outcome.

Tetris is an enjoyable and engrossing way to pass the time, and all the pieces come together well enough to score some points in Apple’s ongoing quest to level up as a top player in the film market. If you’re looking for a pleasant diversion that will keep your attention without too much effort, Tetris is an awfully good fit. –Patrick Gibbs 

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