Director Sidney Lumet writes in his book "Making Movies" about an argument between River Phoenix and writer Naomi Foner. A scene in the movie concerns the character played by Phoenix being interrupted while practicing a classical piano solo. In the script, when he is caught, he breaks into a jazz riff to cover his "embarrassment" at being caught doing something serious. Phoenix fought hard against this, feeling that his character would never be embarrassed about working at the piano. Lumet was so impressed by the point Phoenix made, he shot the scene the way Phoenix wanted it.
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During a 2016 Q and A session at Austin's South by Southwest Film Festival, Jake Gyllenhaal (whose mother, Naomi Foner, wrote this movie's screenplay) recalled that he was allowed to sit in on two weeks of rehearsals before filming started. The rehearsals made a profound impression on Gyllenhaal, who was six years old at the time; he recounted what he could remember about Sidney Lumet's process: "I do remember the process of exploration, kind of that feeling that there were no rules in that space. I remember River Phoenix asking questions about things that he wasn't sure about, that he didn't really know, and then it would resolve something in the screenplay where, you know, it 'read well,' but then it wouldn't be playable, and he would ask the question and all of a sudden it would become playable and emotional. You could see the actor's instinct kind of open up in their scene. I remember also Sidney Lumet finishing the day really early, because he got what he wanted in six hours. I remember all these really weird things and had no idea who I was around. It's not until now that I realize what an extraordinary privilege and amazing time it was to be amongst that." Gyllenhaal also recalled having a crush on Martha Plimpton at the time.
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Although River Phoenix learned all the hand motions to the piano pieces his character performs in the movie, the audio was dubbed by a professional pianist.
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The bombing that the Popes had carried out is loosely based on the August 24, 1970 bombing of Sterling Hall on the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison, Wisconsin during the height of the Vietnam protest era in which a physics post-doctoral researcher named Robert Fassnacht was killed. Coincidentally, River Phoenix (Danny Pope) was born on August 23, 1970.
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River Phoenix (Danny Pope) was dating Martha Plimpton (Lorna Phillips) during filming. They had been dating since the production of The Mosquito Coast (1986) two years earlier.
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Successfully had its MPAA rating changed through the formal appeals process. Originally given an "R" due to more than one use of the "F" word, it was revised to "PG13".
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The plot and conflicts are nearly identical in Christian Petzold's acclaimed German feature The State I Am In (2000), only the setting, political context and some characters are different. The original screenplay by Naomi Foner is not credited in the German version.
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Features River Phoenix's only Oscar nominated performance.
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The film was No. 10 on Roger Ebert's list of the Best Films of 1988.
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Jomo, the name of the family's dog, is a reference to Jomo Kenyatta, the first prime minister and president of Kenya. It is also a possible reference to the movie Sunday, Bloody, Sunday, in which the Hodson family's doomed dog is named Kenyatta.
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This film, which stars Judd Hirsch, was inspired by the 1970 bombing of Sterling Hall at the University of Wisconsin. In the TV episode Numb3rs: Protest (2006), Hirsch's character Alan Eppes is revealed to have a history of protesting (albeit peacefully) the Vietnam war, and a bombing suspect in that episode is named Matt Stirling.
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River Phoenix starred in two films that year with similar plots, this one and Little Nikita (1988). The difference is that in this film his character's parents were Sixties radicals in hiding and in "Little Nikita" his character's parents were Soviet spies.
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Arthur meets the contact in front of the Eldridge Street Synagogue, which was built on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1887 by immigrants from Eastern Europe.
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The plot is similar to Quantum Leap: Animal Frat - October 19, 1967 (1990) where in the original history a woman blows up a building at a university that she thought was unoccupied, so the person inside was killed as a result, and the woman spent the rest of her life on the run.
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Danny Pope was born in 1969.
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River Phoenix's birth name is River Jude Bottom. So this movie has a Judd and a Jude.
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The film takes place in 1987.
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Harry Pope was born in 1977.
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Paul Manfield was born on October 18, 1947.
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