Just imagine how nice it would be to see a biopic that isn't just the same old same old, perhaps even one with a little razzmatazz? Well, ignore awards season darlings and open wide because here comes Tetris. No, not the game but a legal thriller-comedy from director Jon S. Baird which tracks the game's ownership and licensing history in a way that often seems way too wild to be true. Taron Egerton stars as Henk Rogers, a Dutch video game designer who believes to have licensed partial rights to Tetris before he finds himself in vehement legal warfare, ending up in Soviet-era Moscow where he also meets its original designer Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Yefremov). Also involved are media mogul Robert Maxwell (Roger Allam), his son Kevin (Anthony Boyle), their associate Robert Stein (Toby Jones), the Communist Party, KGB agents and Nintendo.
This expression might be becoming a bit overused but ''better than it has any right to be'' feels like the most accurate way to describe Tetris. Baird and screenwriter Noah Pink find the most fitting and entertaining tone to come back to, providing fast-paced, high wire storytelling while also feeling free to embellish plot developments for the big screen. Pink's writing pulls you into this world with ease, making something as emotionless as contract negotiations feel like life-and-death situations. Baird accentuates this along with editors Martin Walsh, Colin Goudie and Ben Mills who seemed to have founded a perfect rhythm section with Egerton's speech pattern, extremely active camera movement by DoP Alwin Küchler as well as neatly implemented visual effects that use 8-bit graphics for transitions and action.
With those line deliveries, gorgeous moustache and a flair for the dramatic blocking—sorry, not sorry—Egerton pretty much explodes in his outing as Henk, delivering an electric performance in a role which easily could get annoying if it had fallen into the wrong hands. Henk's home life and relationship with his family is the only thing that doesn't quite work, though that is because it's so cookie-cutter in terms of character depth and not because Egerton or Ayane Nagabuchi (as Henk's wife Akemi) fail to portray the couple's emotional disconnect.
Even when the film takes a breather in those domestic scenes, the incredible (and mostly) true story just keeps surprising you and energy is always high. To ensure that, composer Lorne Balfe's score works overtime in tandem with a pulsing soundtrack and sound effects that also have fun with 8-bit aesthetics. Balfe's arpeggiated synth bass and dry kick drums imply a high heart rate so you never forget how Henk is trying to find control in an unwelcoming place that wants to hold that control only inside government buildings managed by shady communists. Many can find this obnoxious but if you're looking for something new from biopics, Tetris can be massively addictive.
Smileys: Tone, Taron Egerton, score, screenplay, editing
Frowneys: Minor issues with characterisation
Of course it will have a high score.