“Baz Luhrmann has named his new movie after a continent,” said Ty Burr in The Boston Globe, “which should give you a clue to his modest ambitions.” Starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, Australia unfolds between 1939 and 1942 and attempts “to balance the epic destruction of a city with the closing of a nation's racial wounds,” while also trying to keep the film’s two lovers “dancing around each other.” But all this effort “costs” Luhrmann his “natural brio,” and ultimately “all you can see is the strain.”

Luhrmann is “a maximalist,” said Manohla Dargis in The New York Times. He “doesn’t simply want to rouse your laughter and tears, he wants to rouse you out of a sensory-overloaded stupor with jolts of passion and fabulous visions”—and with Australia, he succeeds. This movie feels “like a sincere cry from the swelling, throbbing heart—a true expression of self.”

But Australia “needs to be approached with caution and a degree of patience,” said Stephanie Zacharek in Salon. This movie is a lot of things: It’s “an ambitious scramble, a sometimes dazzling, sometimes ludicrous epic that strives to meld history, politics, religion and morality into a fat, engrossing story.”