The wild origin story of legendary video game Tetris

(M) 118 minutes

There is no ignoring Henk Rogers’ moustache. It sits on its owner’s top lip like a small furry animal sniffing out opportunities for advancement. Rogers is a video game developer and in 1988, when Scottish director Jon S. Baird’s film opens, he’s just suffered a setback. His latest game has proved a flop, but he’s already contemplating his next step.

Nikita Efremov (left) plays Tetris’ soulful designer Alexey Pajitnov, while Taron Edgerton plays Henk Rogers, the man who wants to buy the game’s rights for Japan, in Tetris.

He’s been introduced to a game called Tetris and he’s fallen for it, describing it as the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. He desperately wants to buy the rights for Japan, where he’s a resident, but there’s one complication. The game’s creator is Russian and any attempt to secure rights will inevitably involve a deal with the Soviet authorities.

The film is based on a true story; Tetris was to become one of the gaming world’s biggest hits. The real Rogers has endorsed this version, although he has admitted Hollywood’s influence has dialled up the suspense levels.

This is not to say Rogers, played by Rocketman’s Taron Egerton, enjoyed cosy relations with the Russians. The film, he says, has accurately caught the threatening atmosphere that hung over each of his business trips. Even though it was shot in Glasgow, standing in for Moscow, the shadow of Lubyanka, the city’s notorious prison, looms over everything.

Every thriller needs a truly detestable villain and Baird has taken this rule seriously, assigning the role to Valentin Trifonov (Igor Grabuzov), a venal KGB chief with an icy glare and an assassin’s grin.

Togo Igawa (left), Nino Furuhata and Taron Egerton attempt to seal the deal in Tetris.

He doesn’t have the field to himself, however. The infamous media tycoon Robert Maxwell (Roger Allam) is also after the rights to Tetris and his son Kevin (Anthony Boyle) emerges as a rich kid so insufferably arrogant, that Succession’s Roy family would regard him with wonder. Only slightly more bearable is Toby Jones as Robert Stein, a practised fixer deeply embroiled in the wrangle.

Rogers is rather too frenetic a character to elicit much sympathy. You want him to win, but his relentlessness comes at the expense of his wife and children. The real hero of the story is Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov), Tetris’s soulful designer, who has resigned himself to the belief he’s never going to reap much of a financial reward for his efforts, whoever wins.

Yet, it’s Gorbachev’s Russia. The Berlin Wall is about to come down and anything can happen.

At times, the film veers into caricature, but Noah Pink’s script makes lucid work of the tangled negotiations that drive the plot. Nintendo and Atari also become involved and the ironies multiply as the stakes are raised and poor Alexey’s fortunes begin to decline even further. But there are more twists to come. It’s a great story with a rousing finish.

Tetris is streaming on Apple TV+ from March 31.

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