Film Review: ‘The Fourth Noble Truth’

Courtesy of DKZ Films

There's not much enlightenment to be found in this dreary slog of a drama.

An advertisement for Buddhism in which dramatic transparency, inertia and preachiness operate in complete harmony, “The Fourth Noble Truth” is a slog of mind-and-soul-numbing proportions. Boasting a frail narrative skeleton whose sole purpose is to provide opportunities for characters to explain — and disingenuously debate — core Eastern religious tenants, writer-director Gary T. McDonald’s film charts the dynamic between movie star Aaron (Harry Hamlin) and spiritual guru Rachel (Kristen Kerr), whom Aaron is compelled to see in order to curry favor with a judge presiding over his recent road-rage arrest. Aaron is the self-centered, pleasure-before-enlightenment type, and his story is one of coming to understand the need to transcend his self-destructive ways through meditation. That course, however, is charted with such dreary sermonizing and dull interplay between its leads that the resultant project seems destined to appeal only to already committed true believers.

Having gotten himself into trouble with the law by taking a golf club to a random motorist’s vehicle, Aaron arrives on Rachel’s doorsteps in need of help, although his smarmy arrogance and cocksure lothario ways make it immediately clear that he’s anything but Buddhism material. That’s dispiriting to Rachel — albeit not as dispiriting as the film forcing its figure of faith to go gratuitously topless in her opening scene. That unnecessary gesture immediately exposes “The Fourth Noble Truth” as something less than a holy work, not to mention one that’s comfortable engaging in crass tactics to keep viewers engaged. Rachel is repeatedly objectified via shots of her jogging in tight tops and short shorts, dressing and undressing, and — as a part-time actress who’s eventually given a role by Aaron in his ongoing production — donning a hooker’s outfit for work, all in an effort to define her as spiritual and sexual in equal measure.

McDonald doesn’t treat Rachel as seriously as he does her opinions on Buddhism, just as he’s less invested in lively plotting as he is in promoting his tale’s underlying lesson. Its title referring to the last stage in the process Aaron must undergo in order to free himself of his negative behavior and impulses, “The Fourth Noble Truth” is staged like a two-character play, with scene after scene of Hamlin and Kerr chatting away in sparsely furnished interior settings. Those are directed with minimal imagination, and invariably involve Rachel earnestly reciting textbook-like speeches about letting go of ego and stepping outside one’s self to achieve peace and harmony, and Aaron boorishly scoffing at such ideas while trying to get into Rachel’s pants and saying ear-bleedingly awkward things like, “Dude! Now I want this to happen, Dog!”

Such awful dialogue isn’t saved by the flat performances of Hamlin and Kerr, who are saddled with one-note roles that go nowhere. Stuck in one bland locale after another (apartment, garage, movie trailer, park), the two leads go back and forth about Aaron’s need to stop being angry and find a higher calling. Alas, their rapport remains superficial throughout, and is compounded by the fact that, even after an impromptu bedroom tryst supposedly complicates Aaron and Rachel’s relationship, McDonald’s script moves neither protagonist out of their original comfort zone until the final few minutes, when developments lead to convenient epiphanies that open the characters’ eyes to new possibilities — and the audience’s eyes to the material’s shoddy construction.

Film Review: 'The Fourth Noble Truth'

Reviewed online, Stamford, Conn. June 4, 2015. Running time: 88 MIN.


A DKZ Films production in association with Ramnath/Weston Productions and Sun-Spot Prods. Produced by David Kohner Zuckerman, Jillian Stein, Jim Whelehan. Executive producers, Rick Ramnath, Scott Weston, Harry Hamlin, Steven Jensen, Georges Salo, Ann McGuire, Bill Goldstein, Sharon, Connor, Heath Pisarcik.


Directed, written by Gary T. McDonald. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Bert Guthrie, James Jansen; editor, Betsy Comstock; music, Pete Kneser; production designer, Caity Birmingham; costume designer, Kresta Lins; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby Digital), Pete Kneser; sound, Ryan James; associate producer, Robert Riskin, Nevada Grey, Devra Sari Zabot, Katie Rubin; assistant director, Sandra C. Ruckdeschel; casting, Scott David.


Harry Hamlin, Kristen Kerr, Richard Portnow.

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  1. D.A. Brown says:

    You can critic someone’s acting, we’ll let I’d consider from whom this is derived. You put Esquire at the end of your name. That can only be for the simple fact that your stock is questionable. Schafer were at best shepherds and at worst delineated from “Shavers” who were sheep shearers. Low commoners. One of the actors who you disparage comes from true upper class from the county of Meath in Ireland and replete with a family crest. So before a commoner with pseudo narcissistic tendencies can make a remark about someone of stature. You my good Esquire, should look into your own questionable ancestry. For as it stands one can take the person out of the gutter but one can never take the gutter out of the person. In your case putting Esquire at the end of your name only showcased your insecurity of who you are. And that is ego and that is one of the tenants you criticise of the movie. So were you at all attentive at th show, or were you like the rest of your common stock unable to grasp those subtleties unless someone was to spoon feed you the answers. So typical of all the movies you “critic”. Do I listen to a Shepherd criticizing a movie. No no more than I would listen to a pesky fly hovering about. I’d find it bothersome much like again your pedestrian common insolent remarks that are veiled as criticism. If you can attack someone’s acting of which you have no experience then one can attack your place on this earth. Know who you are and your place before you dare question someone of stature, Shepherd or sheep shearer.

  2. D.A. Brown says:

    First of Sept Schafer if you actually paid slightly more attention you would have noted that on several occasions the Rachel character never referred to herself as a guru. Second this movie has elements of Ingmar Bergman which through your pedantic and pedestrian criticism has missed. Obviously you have not watched enough cerebral movies to be able to know the difference rather you show your own myopic view. Especially from one who thinks that the quasi horror movie sleepless is English literature or a scientific dissertation on the disorder when it is none of the above. If I want to learn about the disorder there is plenty of material on the subject. I don’t need some self appointed critic to tell me that some Hollywood trite piece of celluloid is all about the subject. Therefore if one extrapulates your pedantic illusionary criticism, I would say that your critic of Four Noble Truth or so far off the mark I would need the Hubble to make sense of what you actually watched. As it is blatantly obvious that you only watched 10 min if that when your job is to have watched the movie in its entirety. Your criticism insults Buddhism to which there are 1.6 billion followers. And I would hazard a guess that you neither have the acumen nor the intelligence to make a comment let alone criticize a movie to which you are not versed. It is best to leave your criticism for formulaic remakes and comics that which you know something about. The interplay between each set had everything to do with Zen and were well thought out allegories to the scene that passed and will follow. Again, you missed that, it flew over your head for I can only guess you have no point of reference. It is best that if you want to criticise movies that are cerebral in nature, it is best that you take university level courses in literature and not just the trite English literature that most of you are familiar with. Your criticism only showcased your ignorance and that of the paper you represent. It is also obvious that this criticism of your critic will not see the light of day, for the only free speech exolted by your paper is one that favours you and the paper. If however it does see the light of day I would not only be surprised but actually may start to believe that criticisms do cut both ways. My recommendation is that you read up on Ingmar, Moliere, Voltaire, and Buddhism then step back in the theater and watch the movie in its entirety. There is a pre requisite you need to bring a certain amount of iq to this movie as you will not be spoon fed the material like so many of the adolecent movies you usually criticise with elitist monomer Nick Schager Esquire. Really? What century are you living Esquire? Are we in feudal Times. Last I recall the Knights of the round were disbanded two hundred years ago.

  3. Wendra Reese says:

    I saw the movie last night at The Laemmle and thought it was great! The theatre was packed and everyone seemed to be laughing along with me during the film. The chemistry between Aaron and Rachel was intense and I found it to be well acted. I think the movie is a great introduction to Buddhism and meditation especially for those who are new to it. I would definitely recommend people to go see it!

  4. A little harsh, don’t you think?

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