Jeff and Michael Zimbalist‘s The Two Escobars, which I finally saw last Thursday at the Tribeca Cinemas, tells an incredibly sad and tragic story. But it’s mainly a phenomenal sports documentary because it’s so much more than just a doc about guys kicking a ball around a field.

Director Jason Reitman, a major supporter of the film who moderated the post-screening discussion, feels that The Two Escobars the equal of One Day in September and When We Were Kings, and while I’m no sports fanatic I can think of no reason to disagree. The above is a response by Michael to my question about how Columbia seemed plagued by a kind of poison during the big drug years.

The Two Escobars played on ESPN last summer, and will have a brief theatrical opening soon. I’m calling it essential viewing, and not just for soccer fans.

An 8.27.10 San Francisco Chronicle review of The Two Escobars called it a “shrewdly told portrayal of Colombia during the darkest days of narcotrafficking, detailing the last years of two famous Colombians named Escobar, who weren’t related by blood but by their connection to a sport. That sport was soccer, and the nation’s cocaine kings were as deeply involved in it as in every other facet of Colombian society.

“One of the Escobars is Pablo, the notorious head of the Medellin cartel, who seems to have been a genuine soccer fanatic, which led him to buy the national team that, through Pablo’s boundless resources, became the odds-on contender to win the World Cup in 1994. Of course, the team also provided a handy way to launder dope profits, and Pablo wasn’t the only Colombian drug king to buy into the sport.

“The other Escobar is Andres, captain of Pablo’s team, a straight arrow and an incredibly talented player motivated by love for soccer and genuine patriotism — he wanted to prove on a worldwide stage that the nation was more than just an inferno of drugs and violence.

“The Zimbalist brothers interweave the two stories using scenes selected from hundreds of hours of news and private footage they acquired. They add some compelling interviews, including revelations from ‘Popeye,’ one of Pablo’s enforcers who claims to have ‘killed or dismembered’ 250 people. He seems tickled to be a part of the movie.

“There is much discussion of Pablo’s astounding and corrupt lifestyle, which brings to mind Caligula, say, or Nero. Pablo’s was a bloody regime — for a time, Colombia had the highest murder rate in the world. Nevertheless, Pablo was able to make himself into a folk hero among the poor by funding housing, clinics and soccer fields. Perhaps the movie pushes this Robin Hood theme harder than the facts will bear.

“The filmmakers establish a relentless and mounting sense of dread as the situation in Colombia, and for the players, becomes intolerable. Pablo is eventually hunted down and killed by a vigilante coalition with ties to other drug dealers (and with U.S. involvement).

“Andres also meets a violent end, back in his beloved homeland 10 days after he accidentally kicked a goal into his own team’s net during the World Cup, eliminating his team. Andres’ death was a national tragedy, and possibly one element prompting the Colombian government to finally take a stand against the drug lords. By general consensus, the nation has made real progress in the continuing battle.”