Taron Egerton stars as Henk Rogers, the founder of a company called Bullet-Proof Software, and a man who basically stumbled into the legacy of Tetris at a gaming convention in his new home country of Japan. He instantly realizes the potential of a game that had yet to really make its way around the Iron Curtain to any part of the world other than Tokyo. And he wants a piece of it. Rogers narrates “Tetris,” a complicated film about a simple game. It’s really just a rolling array of dropping blocks, but the details about market shares, legal rights, and Cold War politics drive the plot here, not the game itself. Rogers is a low-level player in the gaming world, and getting the rights to something as Tetris will require navigating around power figures in both business and politics.
A hyperactive opening act that uses 8-bit graphics and Egerton’s narration a bit too chaotically, “Tetris” really settles in when Rogers gets to Russia (but also gets a little less entertaining). By this point, he’s bet his family’s financial future on this prospect, and the increasingly reliable Egerton smartly sells Henk’s inability to take no for an answer, even when the KGB is involved. As he’s trying to get the rights to sell Tetris to Nintendo so they can bundle it with their new handheld, he runs across the man who actually invented the game, Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Yefremov), and he makes rewarding the game’s creator part of his mission. When Rogers suggests he come over to discuss things with Alexey shortly meeting him, he seems startled to hear that that’s not allowed in Russia. No foreign guests. It’s that kind of a structure that Rogers is trying to navigate. He doesn’t know the language. He doesn’t know the laws. He doesn’t really care because nothing is going to stop him.
It’s not just the battle of Communism vs. Capitalism that stands in Henk Rogers’ way. In the ‘80s, a true business villain was on the scene in the form of Robert Maxwell, played here by Roger Allam. Maxwell owned the Mirror Group, who published the Daily Mirror, among others, and was a fascinating, divisive figure in world business and politics. (He also had a daughter named Ghislaine. Yes, that one.) His son Kevin (Anthony Boyle) tries to grab some attention from daddy and the world by profiting from Tetris, which allows the Maxwells to become the “big business” figures that stands in their way, with Toby Jones’ negotiator Robert Stein in the middle. In Russia, Rogers runs afoul of Russian authorities at every turn, including an imposing figure at Alexei’s company named Nikolai (Oleg Shtefanko) and a classic Russian tough guy named Valentin (Igor Grabuzov), who literally threatens to throw a child out a window at one point, pointing out that everything falls at the same rate. (Like Tetris! Get it?!?)