In troubled times the masses look for something to help them understand–somewhere to find inspiration. Aside from the gods and political bodies, this position has often fallen to the artist. In fact, some of the most well respected movies in history have been the result of just such an attempt at confronting and challenging those conflicts that plague the world. Think Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Apocalypse Now, Schindler’s List and Crash, the 2004 Oscar-winning feature written and directed by Paul Haggis. Whether it’s challenging audiences to discuss the racial divide as he did in Crash or trying to explain the undercurrents of love as with Million Dollar Baby, Haggis has risen to the world’s mandate: Help us understand ourselves.

Born in Ontario, Canada, Haggis spent his childhood at the family-owned theater, which took to producing some of the young playwright’s material. Unfortunately, they were poorly received. Fortunately, this was one of the necessary stepping stones that led to his career in Hollywood. Once in Los Angeles, Haggis landed positions writing for sitcoms including “Diff’rent Strokes,” “One Day at a Time,” “The Facts of Life,” “Who’s the Boss,” “L.A. Law” and “thirtysomething,” shows that were far from the weighty topics he examines today. Few of his television efforts paid off in the long run so the screenwriter turned toward a career in film. Since then he has won two Academy Awards and received three more nominations.

On September 21, Warner Independent Pictures will release In the Valley of Elah, the newest feature written and directed by the very same man that brought James Bond back with a vengeance in Casino Royale (2006). Elah is the touching story of a young Iraq veteran who goes missing somewhere in between his tour of duty and his arrival back home. His father (Tommy Lee Jones) and a spitfire young cop (Charlize Theron) initiate a hunt for the boy that leads into dangerous government territory. “Whether you’re for or against the war, we need to face what’s happening to the brave men and women we’re sending there,” Haggis explains. “I wanted to tell the story of good people who have to make terrible decisions.” And along the way, offer up a little more wisdom for the masses to lean on.