Saoirse Ronan (The Host)
Harry Treadaway (Honeymoon)
Bill Murray (Zombieland)
Toby Jones (The Hunger Games)
Martin Landau (Ed Wood)
Tim Robbins (Antitrust)
Marianne Jean-Baptiste (The Cell)
Liz Smith (The Tunnel)
Mary Kay Place (Sweet Home Alabama)
Mackenzie Crook (Pirates of the Caribbean)
In the midst of an unspecified catastrophe, an underground city is constructed to shelter a large group of survivors, with secret instructions to future generations in a small box timed to open 200 years later. This box is entrusted to the mayor of the City of Ember. Each mayor, in turn, passes the box on to his or her successor. Over time, the significance of the box is forgotten, and the succession is broken when the seventh mayor dies before revealing the importance of the box. The box opens at the allotted time, but goes unnoticed. 41 years after the box opens, Ember’s electric generator begins to fail, and the reserves of canned goods and light bulbs are depleted.
At a rite of passage for all graduating students, Mayor Cole (Bill Murray) stands before the students as they choose their occupations by lottery. Protagonist Lina (Saoirse Ronan), who dreams of becoming a messenger, is assigned to be a “Pipeworks Laborer” under the technician Sul (Martin Landau), and her classmate Doon (Harry Treadaway), the son of Loris ‘Barrow’ Harrow (Tim Robbins), is assigned “Messenger”; whereupon the two secretly exchange assignments. At home, Lina finds the timed box, and enlists Doon’s help to decipher its contents. Gradually, they learn that the document is a set of instructions toward an exit from the city; and later, discover that Mayor Cole has been hoarding canned food in a secret vault. When they report the theft, they are arrested and the mayor attempts to take the box from Lina; but a blackout allows Lina to escape. Now fugitives from the mayor’s police, the pair obtain Poppy (Amy Quinn and Catherine Quinn), Lina’s 4 year old sister, and escape with the help of Sul, along a subterranean river. Meanwhile, the Mayor turns against his accomplice Looper, and locks himself in his vault, only to be devoured by a gigantic mole. Lina, Doon, and Poppy reach the surface, where they witness the sunrise; and later tie a message of their discovery to a rock and drop it into the city, where it is found by Loris.
Saoirse Ronan and Harry Treadaway give convincing performances in their lead positions and very rarely give attention to their ages. Sure enough, their roles aren’t the most demanding of jobs, but despite their characters’ underwritten nature both fulfil the requirements of leads nicely and with enough conviction to consistently carry the film forward. Of course, it’s always good to have a familiar face around, and Bill Murray, playing the obnoxious and gluttonous slob Mayor Cole, is the one to provide such a role. Murray, although arguably underused as far as his talents go, does well to establish a character that nobody is necessarily going to warm to, and uses whatever screen time he has adequately to further the movie on and to back up his lead performers. In the end however, all these elements simply come together to create one thing; an adventure. As just that, City of Ember is a very strong and convincing effort from director Gil Kenan who makes his live-action debut here.