According to Writer and Director Andrew Niccol, the filmmakers worked with actual gunrunners in the making of this movie. The tanks lined up for sale were real, and belonged to a Czech arms dealer, who had to have them back to sell to another country. They used a real stockpile of over three thousand AK-47s, because it was cheaper than getting prop guns.
Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) was largely based on the exploits of international arms dealer Viktor Bout, a former Soviet officer, who was finally arrested by Thai authorities in March 2008. Bout, known as the "Merchant of Death", was trying to make a deal with American agents posing as F.A.R.C. insurgents when he was apprehended. After languishing in a Bangkok prison awaiting extradition by the U.S., he was tried and found guilty, and awaits sentencing in a Manhattan prison. The quote from Orlov seems appropriate, "I know that just because they needed me that day, didn't mean that they wouldn't make me a scapegoat the next." As a further reference, Orlov's father is named Anatoly, just like Bout's father.
The character Colonel Oliver Southern is a reference to Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, who was tried (and ultimately pardoned) for selling arms to Iran to raise money to support the Contra movement in Nicaragua.
The Antonov An-12 airplane number 9Q-CIH filmed in the movie was owned by Russian citizen Evgeny Zakharov. On January 8, 2005, the plane crashed at Bukalaza, Uganda, killing all six crew members. The plane departed Entebbe airport for its destination Kinshasa. It was reportedly carrying humanitarian relief items.
In the opening scene of the bullet being manufactured and travelling along the conveyor into its box, the box in front of it has "Odessa, Ukraine" stamped on it. This is from whence Yuri's family came before settling in America.
When Yuri first enters the lobby of the hotel in Monrovia, there are two men in front of the television and making comments about it. They are watching O.J. Simpson's murder trial, which places the action somewhere in October of 1995.
In the opening "Life of a Bullet" sequence during the opening credits, the ammo box on the conveyor belt ahead of the one the bullet is traveling in has a label in Cyrillic-lettered Russian. It translates as: S/N (Seriynyy Nomer, or "Serial Number") 83027 / Odessa, Ukraine / Code: DD / KOL-RO 1588. The second line spells "Odessa, Ukraine" the Russian way rather than the Ukrainian way. This is not an error; it is common practice on Ukrainian export ammunition to former Soviet client states, even non-Russian speaking clients. The third line uses the code letters "DD," presumably to denote the bullet type. The last line has two errors that seem to be deliberately inserted for English-speaking audiences. KOL is an abbreviation for KOLICHESTVO, or "number of," RO is an abbreviation for "rounds," and 1588 is the total number of cartridges in the crate. The standard Russian/Warsaw Pact term for items per package (like bullets) is Wtyka (SHTUKA > "Pieces") and is shortened as Wt. (Sht.). This was probably done to avoid confusion with the Western abbreviation "Wt." used to denote a package's weight. The letters "RO" for "rounds" should be "PU" or "PULI" for Puli, the Russian word for "bullets".
The helicopter taken apart by the mechanic just before Agent Valentine arrives is an Mi-24 Hind-A. It is distinguishable from later versions of the Hind due to the "greenhouse" cockpit. Later versions had two rounded canopies.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The two characters most responsible for Yuri's arrest are Jack, the INTERPOL Agent, and Ava, Yuri's wife. Jack and Ava are the names of Director Andrew Niccol's real children. His son had a role in this movie.